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Christmas cards: Relics of Christmas past? December 11, 2010

Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
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Our friend Ben was unsurprised to read a headline in our local paper, the Allentown, PA Morning Call, yesterday: “Bad tidings for Christmas Cards.” The subhead, “Technology puts its stamp on season’s greetings,” implied to me that e-cards, which I believe are free, and certainly almost effortless to send, have annihilated the market for beautiful or whimsical but often pricey honest-to-God, hold-in-your hands paper cards.

Who wants to spend $60 for three boxes of cards, buy stamps, and then laboriously hand-address each card and write a personal message, maybe enclose some photos or a newsletter, when you can push a button instead? The cost factor alone is significant at a time when most of us are already busting our budgets buying and mailing presents.

So, as I say, I was saddened but not really surprised to see the story… until I actually read it. (For the full story, go to www.themorningcall.com.) Sure enough, there were the experts pronouncing that Facebook and Twitter, smart phones and iPads were rapidly putting Christmas cards in the quill-and-parchment category, quaint collectibles to purchase at your local antiques mall and display with your retro Christmas decorations.

But the article also included a chart with actual sales figures, and one showing percentage of Christmas-card buyers by age. Last year (2009), Christmas cards were a $3.8 billion dollar business. That would be almost $4 billion dollars Americans spent on Christmas cards during a deep recession. The next chart showed that 46% of Americans bought Christmas cards last year, including 38% of the age group (25-34) cited by one expert as being incapable of sending a thank-you note, much less a card.

Four billion dollars and 46 percent of the population does not sound like a dying franchise to our friend Ben. Instead, it sounds like an economic miracle in the electronic age, or any age, for that matter. Four billion dollars for Christmas cards! 

Silence Dogood and I love Christmas cards. We love getting them, seeing the family photos and reading the newsletters. We cherish the handwritten notes. We carefully select our own cards every year and write lengthy messages to everyone on our list. And no, we don’t enjoy getting e-cards. But neither do we enjoy getting a knee-jerk mailed card that’s obviously been chosen in haste and simply signed, without a message.

But that $3.8 billion is giving our friend Ben pause. Imagine what that amount of money could do if it were spent feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, healing the sick, and comforting the miserable? Surely that would be a fitter expression of the Christmas spirit. Perhaps those sickening e-cards aren’t so bad, after all.