Holiday Cards: A Thing of the Past?

Disclaimer: Views expressed in Bob’s Blog belong solely to the author and do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of the CAC Office in Aging or its staff. 

As time passes, the way we celebrate holidays changes.  Sometimes these changes are small and other times they are major. Some occur gradually. Others occur quickly.

One major change all of us have seen during the month of December has been the drop in the number of greeting cards people send to each other.

In years past, it seemed it was a tradition for every family to send a Holiday Card to each and every person they knew. If one did not get a card from someone they knew, they would wonder why the person forgot them. Occasionally they would be upset for being overlooked.

In recent years, people are sending less and less cards. Perhaps in the near future that will become a thing of the past.  At holiday gatherings during December a hundred years from now, families may recall the old days and talk about when people sent cards to one another.

Before we explore what has happened, let’s look at the history of greeting cards – who created them and how did they become so popular.

The Background on the Greeting Card

At times, we Americans believe we started everything. Of course, an American invented electricity. Americans invented the car. We even invented the airplane.  We put the first man on the moon and started the space age.

Sure, we invented many things but there are many things others originated. One of those was the greeting card.

Henry Cole, a British businessman created the first Christmas card in 1843.It seems he was too busy to write a personal greeting to his friends and customers. So, Henry hired an artist to design a card for him. He sent this card to all his acquaintances.  The cost to send each card at that time was one penny.

Here in the United States, the first Christmas card was printed by Louis Prang in 1875. Louis came to this country from Prussia and had a print shop in Boston. His card was more generic. It didn’t have a Christmas or winter scene. All it had was a picture of a flower and the words, Merry Christmas.

Modern Christmas card production began in Kansas City in 1915. A small company specializing in post cards run by Joyce Hall and her brothers, Rollie and William, printed them.  Over the next several years, they standardized the format of the card. That is still in use today.

In the 1920’s, The Hall’s Company became Hallmark.

Greeting cards really became popular in the 1930’s, 1940’s and 1950’s. That’s when the more colorful cards still being printed today became popular.

The Greeting Card – A Family Tradition

For years, Holiday cards were an integral part of almost every family’s life. Kids would see their parents writing out Holiday cards at the kitchen table.

In some families, mom or dad would have their children create their own cards. Out came construction paper, safety scissors and Elmer’s glue. The kids would go to work making their own cards right beside their parents.

Not only was this a ritual, it was a fun time for a family.

Receiving Cards Was More Fun than Sending Them

Every family looked forward to receiving cards from their families and friends.  As cards arrived, they would read each one. Opening a card would trigger them to think of the people who sent it and the times they had with them.

After a card was opened and read, it became a part of the holiday decorations in the home. Mom or dad had a special location for every card received.  For those who celebrated Christmas, it may have been on a wall near the Christmas tree, on a door frame in the living area or on a special table just for cards.

From time to time, family members would look at the cards again.  Frequently this would trigger more memories of times spent with the person or family that sent it.

Not until after the holiday was over and all the other decorations were put away were the cards discarded.

The Major Shift Over the Last 20 Years

Less and less people are sending greeting cards. The number sent has steadily dropped.  Family members no longer get together to write them out. There is no special place in the home where they’re placed.  At times, cards are discarded right after they’re opened and read.

Why Has This Happened?

First, the way we communicate with each other has changed. Today, most people communicate with one another over social media.

Younger people text one another.  They also use Twitter, Snapchat, and many other sites like this to stay in touch with each other.

Older people use email or Facebook.

Second, it’s far more difficult to find cards today.

Years ago, there would be entire aisles in stores filled with boxes of cards. Now, those aisles are gone and it’s very difficult to find them.

The price of cards has risen to the point where the average person can no longer afford them.

Not only can’t people afford the cost of stamps but the cost of communicating by email or social media is much less.

Third, the cost to mail them is prohibitive. In 2001, a first-class stamp was $.34. In 2011, it was $.44. Today it’s $.58. The increase since 2001 is over 70% and since 2011 32%.  Think back to England in 1843. It cost a penny to mail a card.

Not only can’t people afford the cost of stamps but the cost of communicating by email or social media is much less.

People are sending less and less cards. Those they do send are to close family members.

The Adverse Effect

Sending and receiving Holiday cards was a tradition for those people who grew up during the 1940’s, 1950’s and 1960’s. They are 60 and older today.

Each year that passes, they get fewer and fewer cards.  More and more of the friends they grew up with are dying.  Their children and grandchildren send greetings over social media. It’s sad, but sending a greeting through social media is very impersonal.

These people don’t text or use social media. Some don’t even have computers. They have become isolated from the world and become more so every day.

When they don’t receive cards, they become lonely and depressed. Their loneliness and depression intensify when very few people call them to connect over the holidays.

Texting is the way their grandchildren and great grandchildren communicate.  It’s sad, but this is very impersonal.

No only don’t these older people want to send greetings that way, they don’t know how to. Some still have older cell phones and can’t text.

Reach Out – The Reward Will Be Tremendous

Right there where you live, you probably have neighbors 65 to 90 years of age. Some may not have family nearby. These will tend to be the loneliest and most depressed.

If you can, get or make a card for each one. It doesn’t have to be fancy. It can even be handwritten or printed on your computer. Rather than sending it, drop by their home and deliver it in person.

If they’re home, use this as an opportunity to talk to and spend some time with them. You may be the only visitor they have during the holiday season.  Your visit will be a highlight for them. They will really appreciate it.

If they’re not home, just leave it at their door. Make sure it doesn’t blow away. When they get home and open it, they will be thrilled you remembered them. It will add to their lives. Most probably, they will be on the lookout for you and thank you for being so thoughtful.


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