Christmas Card Etiquette

By Sharon Naylor

September 25, 2013 6 min read

When it comes to stationery and greeting cards, etiquette rules still lean toward handwritten correspondence as the most proper way to send any traditional or important salutations. Hand-writing holiday cards has become a little less expected these days, though, as more people have started sending emailed holiday cards that are flashy and help save on paper and postage costs. Many people even prefer this as an eco-friendly alternative to the print Christmas card.

Emailed holiday greetings -- traditional, funny, animated -- are considered acceptable in today's estimation of what's good etiquette and what's not, but there are still many traditional-minded relatives who prefer a hand-written Christmas card, since it shows you cared enough to take the time to write to them personally and didn't just add their email address to a long list and hit "send" very impersonally. Hand-written Christmas cards are greatly appreciated by family and friends in this age of digital communication. A pretty card and touchable paper, plus your handwriting, make the card a welcome find in the mailbox.

As with all-important written correspondence, following etiquette rules is essential to honoring the recipient, while also making you look proper and impressive. It's also an important collection of lessons for kids to absorb as their world revolves around digital communication. They need to learn the proper way to send greetings and be generous in spirit when reaching out to loved ones.

Here are the top rules of Christmas card etiquette.

--Select cards suitable to your recipients' beliefs. Rebecca Black, etiquette expert known as the Polite One, says, "Firstly, you will want to think about who you are sending your Christmas cards to. If you are planning to send the same design to everyone, pick something fairly generic, and avoid risque jokes which may not be appreciated by everyone on your mailing list. In addition, it is important to remember that not everyone celebrates Christmas. Whilst most people are still happy to receive a card, if you know that a particular family celebrates another festival, such as Kwanzaa or Hanukah, it can be best to send them a card accordingly." Buy several boxes of cards; some with "merry Christmas" and some that say "happy holidays" or "season's greetings." This way, you wish the recipients peace and joy, but you are staying safe with everyone in your varying social and family circles.

--Make sure you have all family members' names spelled correct. It's OK to email your cousin to double-check that you have her new baby name spelled correctly in your records. In some families, moms and grandmoms are the top sources to confirm which distant cousins have had babies and what the kids' names are. A reliable family source can also tell you that Cousin Max just got divorced, so leave his ex's name off the envelope, lest it upset him to see his previously paired couple name there. Check people's Facebook pages to get the scoop on their family names and new partners' names so that you can be all-inclusive. Get last names correct. When sending a card to a couple or family with two different last names, always address the card to both people: John Smithson and Mary James, or the entire family as in Mary James, John Smithson and Family. Always include the children's name inside every family card.

--Include pets! Many people consider their pets to be their babies, and they appreciate the inclusion of their pet's name on your Christmas card. Again, check Facebook pages to get the pet's correct name spelling, and ensure that your contact hasn't recently lost their pet to illness -- again an etiquette disaster in a Christmas card.

--Hand-write a message inside the card. Just signing your name(s) shows you rushed through the process, took no time to personalize and didn't put much heart into the process. Write brief personalized notes in each card -- have two or three different greetings in mind, such as "With love from our family to yours" and "Wishing you a wonderful Christmas!" and hand-sign when possible. An exception to this is the popular, glossy photo card that's pre-printed with your greeting and family names, which is OK to send as-is. But an additional enclosed personal note is in great taste!

--It's OK for you to sign the names of all of your family members on the cards if it's too impractical to get everyone to sign them. Kids might sign the cards to grandparents, but they don't have to sign all 150 of your holiday cards.

--The long, rambling newsletter of every piece of your family's news has gone by the wayside since everyone sees all of your family news on Facebook. But it's OK to enclose a separate insert card, such as an adorable Christmas message from your school-age child, from each of your family members.

--Don't just sign your names at the bottoms of Christmas cards. That's too much like an assembly line and terribly impersonal. Again, address the recipients, add a personal note and then write your names.

--Send your Christmas cards early enough so that they can be put on display. If your cards arrive the day before the holiday or during the days after, recipients can feel like an afterthought or that you sent a card after receiving theirs.

--Always include your return-address label. Recipients like to keep these to update their card and invitation records.

--A new etiquette rule: Don't thank anyone for Christmas cards via Facebook. Their friends and family who didn't receive cards could get offended, and the sender will be embarrassed, offended and angry with you. Write privately if you wish to compliment them on their card design.

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