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Bring back the Christmas card tradition

We asked etiquette coach and best-selling author Myka Meier for her expert advice on getting it right, from the card selection to the content and the timing

1 November 2023

Smythson Christmas cards, £39 for 10

At this time of year, when connection and celebration are such a big focus for many, sending a Christmas card can be a thoughtful and meaningful way to show your friends, family and acquaintances that you’re thinking of them during the festive season. 

Christmas cards are a great way to stay in touch with friends and family and to express warm wishes to professional contacts or clients. It’s a way to make someone’s day a little bit brighter. And there’s something particularly special about opening and displaying a festive card.

The tradition began in Victorian times out of necessity, when Sir Henry Cole, the first director of the V&A Museum, found himself beset by so many seasonal greetings that he fretted about replying to so many letters (it was considered the height of rudeness not to answer mail). 

He was struck by a brilliant idea: a card, roughly the size of today’s postcards, printed with a seasonal image, featuring space for him to customise the card with the recipient’s name and the generic greeting, “A Merry Christmas and A Happy New Year To You”.

And while many of us can empathise with Cole’s inbox anxiety, we can also recognise the power of a personal Christmas card to lift the spirits. So we asked etiquette trainer Myka Meier for her expert guidance on the correct way to send cards during the holidays. 

Hedgehog Christmas cards for WWF at the Cards for a Cause pop-up at Holy Trinity, £4.99 for 10
Smythson Christmas cards, £25 for six
Papersmiths Christmas card, £3.50
Papersmiths Christmas card, £5
Who should be on your Christmas card list?

It really depends on each person and family, as some people will send out 25 holiday cards to their nearest and dearest friends and family, while others will send out hundreds to a wider list of colleagues and acquaintances. I typically also send cards to close neighbours, close friends, and those friends I wish to become closer to as well.

One tip to ensure everyone important to you is included is to skim through your phone and email contacts and make sure you haven’t forgotten anyone personally or professionally significant to you. You may find it easiest to split your list into two categories: social and professional. 

Socially, I think it’s a lovely gesture to send a card to all extended family, which includes family members beyond the nuclear family of parents and their children. So your grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins and other relatives. 

If you haven’t spoken to a family member in years, it may be a nice way to reconnect. Alternatively, if someone has gone years without any contact, you may prefer to leave them off your list and keep the holiday cards to a more intimate family list.

 

Your professional list

With the professional side of your list, I would recommend sending cards to anyone who has been a long-standing client, or business contact. You could even send a holiday card to a previous client who dropped off this year’s roster and you want to reconnect with. 

In a small business, if you send a card to one colleague, be sure to send to all (or give the one in private) in order to not come across as hurtful.

 

Choosing a Christmas card that hits the right note

Choosing a card with personality or one that brings joy to those receiving it is key. Papersmiths is one of the best go-to shops to find a design or themed card for any taste. And you can easily trust an Anya Hindmarch holiday card to find the perfect words for you – no matter who you are sending a holiday greeting out to. 

If you’d like your cards to have a positive social impact, drop in to the Holy Trinity church on Sloane Street, which for over 30 years has hosted the UK’s largest branch of the Christmas card charity, Cards for Good Causes, which supports more than 250 UK national and local charities.

 

The family portrait card

If you sent a holiday card with a personal family portrait on it to someone, it would be a sign of a close relationship to the person receiving it – socially or professionally. A general holiday card without a family portrait and instead with a holiday greeting, would be more customarily seen in a professional relationship with someone you don’t know as well. 

Regardless, if there is a pre-printed message in the card, I think one addition to a holiday card that makes it personal and really sets it apart, is physically signing your name(s) at the bottom of the card.

 

Custom-printed cards

A good piece of stationery is almost like a physical signature and can say so much about you. Custom-designed or printed cards will surely make an extra impact on those on the receiving end of them. Smythson is an expert in luxury stationery and has a whole collection of seasonal cards that can be engraved with a bespoke greeting. 

 

Consider cultural sensitivity

When sending a holiday card out to an important contact, if you are not sure which holiday someone celebrates, choose a card with inclusive language such as “Happy Holidays” or something along the lines of “Wishing you a joyful season”.

 

The personal update

Though I have never sent one, I enjoy receiving cards that have been inserted with an update of highlights from the sender’s year. If you go this route, I think keeping it to one page is key.

 

Christmas card faux pas

I think it’s important to remember that not everyone has had an easy or joyful year, and to keep that in mind when sending a card, writing a message or letter update. It’s important to remember to have compassion, especially at this time of year. 

 

Timing

November is too soon to be receiving Christmas cards. I suggest timing the postage so that your cards arrive between the first and third weeks of December.

 

What to say in your holiday cards

I think something short, sweet and personalised is the perfect tone to go with, all while wishing happiness, joy or even gratitude during the season of celebration. For example:

“Dearest May, 

I’m so grateful for everything you do for our family. Thank you for being the most wonderful neighbour. So looking forward to celebrating at your New Year’s Eve party! 

Warmest wishes, 

The Meier family”

 

Your sign-off matters

How you end your message is very personal and truly depends on your relationship to whom you are sending a card. For close family and friends, you may choose to sign off affectionately with “love” and “xx”, or you might prefer to keep things more formal with “Best wishes”. For a professional sign-off, “Best regards” is typically always appropriate. 

Time is often limited around the holidays, so if you don’t have the time to write a personal or warm message, I still think it’s a lovely gesture to send a holiday card, even if it’s short and to the point.

And when it’s time to send your post-Christmas thank-you cards, we’ve got you covered there, too.

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