Christmas card etiquette helps you send out your Season’s Greetings with the warmth and good wishes you want them to have. From what to write under the printed message to how to sign the card and address the envelope, and so much more, the answers to your questions are here in this modern, comprehensive Christmas card etiquette Q&A guide.
When it comes to Christmas card etiquette:
What are the pros and cons of sending printed cards versus email cards?
When is it OK to remove someone from your card list?
How can you best sign your cards?
Is it correct to use address labels and name stamps?
Let’s Open Our Box of Christmas Cards and Get Started!
Why Send Christmas Cards in 2023?
Sending Christmas cards were going the way of “roasting chestnuts on an open fire” until the pandemic. They took off during isolation because we couldn’t see each other in person. But that year sending cards were introduced to a new generation. And since then, sales of Christmas cards have been increasing each year, including a projection upward in 2023.
We can’t be everwhere to wish all the perople we know “glad tidings” in person. So your card might be just the thing to let others know you haven’t forgotten them. And according to this New York Times article, a lot of people are taking time this holiday to share their glad tidings.
This year, send a card to anyone and everyone you can think of: neighbors, coworkers (due to working remotely), friends, people in the social and civic organizations you belong to, your child’s teacher, and anyone else. Hand them out to baristas, the Amazon delivery driver, the dog catcher … you get the point!
As an extra act of kindness, you can partner with a local nursing home and send cards to each of their residents.
Each card you give is a physical reminder of your good wishes for the recipient’s holiday, so be generous with giving cards.
Is It OK to Send Digital or Email Christmas Cards? What Are the Pros and Cons of Sending Printed Cards Versus Email Cards?
1. If your only relationship with someone is a digital one, then an email card is fine. If the recipient is family or a flesh-and-blood friend, then a standard card is the best choice.
2. The drawback of an email card is its brief lifespan. It has just about as much impact on the recipient as the countless jokes, political musings, spam for weight-loss miracles, and get-rich-quick scams that land in our email inboxes.
Plus, the recipients are likely to give it less than ten seconds of their time before pressing the delete key. It’s unlikely that anyone else in the family will ever know about the card, let alone see or read it.
3. For social-networking friends and others, email cards make sense. They also make sense for those serving in the military or living overseas when standard cards might be delayed in the mail or close to impossible to arrive at all.
4. Money is tight for businesses and families alike. If you want to send Christmas wishes but can’t due to budget constraints, don’t hesitate to send electronic cards. Just be understanding if they end up unread because they end up accidentally in your friends’ junk-mail folders.
5. The benefits of a card sent through standard mail are its longevity and its personal impact. Mailed cards usually cause a little excitement or at least curiosity when they arrive. In most homes, cards are opened before any other mail!
6. Once cards sent through snail mail are opened, they’re usually left on the kitchen counter, hung from the fireplace mantel, or placed in some other special spot in the house for everyone in the family to see, read, and enjoy, prolonging the cards’ impact and the good wishes you sent them with. Sometimes those good wishes are held dear for years. A friend shared a story with me about recently moving from his family home and finding cards in the attic spanning decades. Some were among the only things that the recipients had saved.
Who Should You Send a Christmas Card To?
There’s a lot of misunderstanding about the etiquette of sending Christmas cards. Because of it, most people send more cards than they need to.
It’s fine to send a card to anyone. However, cards were invented to send your greetings and best wishes to people you won’t see in person this holiday season.
There’s no need to send them to neighbors or friends at school, work, or church whom you’re going to see between now and January 1. They’ll all know your good wishes because you can tell them in person when you stop to say hello in the halls or over the back fence.
However, again, it’s not rude to give anyone who celebrates Christmas a Christmas card even if you see that person regularly.
Do I Have to Mail All My Cards, or Can I Hand Some of Them Out in Person?
A card delivered through standard mail (snail mail) or handed to the recipient are both equally kind gestures! Just make sure to hand out cards discreetly when you’re in a group setting if not everyone in the group is receiving one. For instance, not all of the people in your church or social or civic organization are going to think you would send them a card. (Unless these groups have 25 or fewer people.) So it’s find to hand deliver cards in larger setting like these.
However, in groups of less than 25, if you hand cards to just a few people, for instance in your small group study or to only a couple of your immediate coworkers, others might feel like you’re distancing yourself from them. And you never want a Christmas card to be the reason someone feels “lesser than.” In groups of less than 25, it’s best to either mail cards to the recipients’ home addresses or to go ahead and give one to each member of the small group.
Is It OK to Stop Sending Someone a Christmas Card? How Do I Drop Someone from My Christmas Card List?
There’s no rudeness inherent in dropping someone from your card list, especially if you’re sending standard cards instead of email cards. Money is hard to come by this year, so if you’ve been thinking about trimming names off your list, this will be a good time. There’s no “official” way you drop someone from your list. You simply don’t send the person a card.
Do I Need to Give a Christmas Card to Everyone Who Gives One to Me?
You don’t need to give a Christmas card to everyone who gives you one unless you want to start a yearly card exchange tradition with them. However, you can mention in person, or via call, text, or email, that you received their cards. It’s always a nice touch on your part!
How to Help Decide Whom It’s OK to Cut from Your Christmas Card List
When deciding whom to cut, keep in mind these tips:
1.) If you’ve sent a card for the last two years and haven’t received one in return, you’re fine to stop sending.
2.) If you want to cut your card list down a lot but are afraid people might tell you that they didn’t get a card from you this year and ask you whether everything is OK, let them know you cut your list by half. That way, they won’t feel like they were one of just a few people you chose to leave out.
3.) Keep sending cards to older persons. Often, they’re lonely, and your cards mean a lot to them. Keep in mind they might not reciprocate because they can’t afford to or because it might be difficult for them to address, sign, and mail the cards. I’ve had ministers tell me that some older persons in their churches who don’t have family receive no gifts and few, if any, Christmas cards. So make sure to add an extra special note to the cards you send them, and maybe a drawing from your child, too. Also keep in mind there’s a good chance they’re not on social media, so your card is a social lifeline for them.
Grace Note: Sometimes, there’s someone on your list who has suffered a loss this year. Perhaps it’s been a death in the family, a major illness, the loss of a job or home (or both), a divorce, a wayward teen or young adult, or one of a million other difficult things. Here’s a quick-tip post to help you know what to say and do: Should You Send a Christmas Card to Someone Suffering a Loss this Year?
How Should You Sign Your Christmas Cards?
1.) The etiquette for signing holiday cards is different from other cards in that they’re the only type of card where one member of the family can sign for all the others. Usually, Dad’s name is listed first, followed by Mom’s and then all the children from oldest to youngest.
Kent, Maralee, Marc, and Corbett McKee (all on one line)
Kent and Maralee
Marc and Corbett
(on two lines with the parents’ names on the first line and the childrens’ names on the second)
2.) If you’re certain the recipient knows your last name, you don’t need to include it.
3.) Once children are married or living on their own, after they’ve graduated from college and/or have a job and place of their own, their names are not included on your cards. It’s time for them to send their own!
4.) In the case of blended families, the parents’/step-parents’ names are listed on the first line, and the children’s names on the second.
If some of the children have different last names than the others, you can include all their last names or leave them all off.
Here are two examples of how the same family could sign their names:
James and Callie Snyder (include the last name or leave it off)
Beth, Timothy, and Leah Johnson (the children’s last name is included since it’s not Snyder, but all the children share the same last name)
James and Callie Snyder (include the last name or leave it off)
Beth, Timothy, and Leah (This time the children’s last name isn’t included because two of the children’s last names are Snyder and the other child’s last name is Johnson. The children’s names have been listed by age from oldest to youngest.)
Should You Include the Name of Someone Who Died on Your Christmas Cards?
Life is too often too short. I receive several letters each year from parents asking whether they should include the name of their child who died during the year. I also receive emails from people wanting to know whether they should also sign the card for their late spouse or partner.
When I was 27, my first husband died of cancer 12 weeks before Christmas. I sent cards that year partly to keep my sanity because I tried to keep my grief away by keeping busy every second night and day. I sent A LOT of cards that year.
It physically hurt to simply sign each card “Maralee.” Half of me was missing. And I felt the reality close in on me more and more with every card I sealed closed.
As hard as it was, I did it mostly because I knew my late husband wanted me to continue living. In fact, he had made me promise. I was trying very hard to keep that promise that first Christmas without him, and the next, and the next.
If I had included his name, it would have caused confusion. (Social media was a few years away when he died.) People in other states who heard he died could have thought they heard incorrectly. For those who were closest to us and had been at his funeral and with me afterwards, I would have turned a Christmas card into a stark reminder of loss.
No one ever has to send Christmas cards. If it’s a sad time in your life and you feel like skipping them, please, please, please do. And if writing them makes you feel better, then by all means send them.
One option: you can sign the card with your name, and the names of any other family members, and then under your name(s), write, “and in remembrance of Chuck.”
Is It OK to Use Address Labels or Name Stamps on Christmas Card Envelopes?
I understand the ease of using address labels, but since they are used on mass mailings from stores, they share that same amount of warmth. Hand-addressing the cards (instead of using your printer) and hand-writing your return address instead of using address labels add what only you can add to the envelope of the card: your personal touch! Unless the labels match the card in some way to add to the beauty of it, or if writing is difficult for you due to health reasons, it’s best both to hand-address the cards and hand-write your return address on the envelopes.
Where Should I Write My Return Address on Christmas Card Envelopes?
Traditionally, for all social correspondence, your return address is written on the back label of the envelope. However, the post office asks us to place our return address in the upper left corner of the envelope, and that’s now the modern etiquette for where to place your return address.
How Should I Address My Christmas Cards?
The etiquette of addressing envelopes usually has a dedicated chapter in an etiquette book. What you’ll find below are the situations you’ll most often encounter. Also, Christmas cards are considered casual instead of formal (like wedding invitations) cards, so you’re free to address them by the more casual etiquette standards.
Married couple with the same last name:
Mr. and Mrs. John Doe
Married couple with different last names or two adults sharing the same home:
Ms. Jane Doe and Mr. John Smith
Married couple with same last name and their children who all share their same last name:
Mr. and Mrs. John Doe
Ava, Jordan, and Zoe Doe
(listed in order from youngest to oldest)
Married couple with different last names:
Ms. Jane Doe and Mr. John Smith
Ava, Jordan, and Zoe (no last name for the children is listed unless all the children share the same last name)
When you aren’t sure of everyone’s name in the family, you can simply address the envelope to:
The Doe Family
When you aren’t sure of everyone’s first name in the family but you do know the two last names they share:
The Smith — Doe Family
If one adult is a medical doctor, the doctor is listed first:
Dr. and Mrs. John Smith (more formally)
Dr. John Smith and Mrs. Sue Smith (less formally)
When the wife is the doctor, both the formal and less formal versions are the same:
Dr. Sue Smith and Mr. John Smith
Should You Sign Your Christmas Cards by Hand?
You’ll absolutely want to hand-sign all of your cards! In fact, not doing so (unless for health reasons) is considered rude. The reason: it’s not a personal greeting if you don’t personally sign it.
You can sign for everyone in your family, but it’s great if each person signs the card individually, including the children. The children might also want to draw on the inside of the card, and that’s OK too as long as it doesn’t block the text of the card.
What Should You Write on a Christmas Card?
Under your signature, you’ll want to write a personal note of a sentence or two on each card, because people really want to know what you have to say more than they care about what the Hallmark employee who wrote the text of the card thought up.
This is where you might want to include a special piece of family news, or inquire about something in the recipients’ lives, and include your own personal words for wishing them a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.
How Do You Sign Photo Cards?
Photo cards are great! The only drawback is that they leave little if any space to write. Try to order cards with a plain back, or at least a little blank space somewhere on the card, so you have space to write a personal note and sign your name(s). Or include an additional piece of paper with a personal note in the envelope with the photo card.
When writing on photo cards, remember it’s best to use a special pen made for photo paper. This will keep the ink from rubbing off or from bleeding through to the other side of the card.
What Is the Etiquette of Including Round-Robin or Preprinted Personal Letters with Your Christmas Cards?
Round-robin letters are the ones people type up on their computer, print out, and insert into each Christmas card they send. It’s OK to do this, but with people keeping up with one another daily via social media, the letters aren’t sent as much as they once were.
If you want to send one, it will be best received by your friends if you make sure it’s not either a brag fest or a woe-is-me fest. If you went on three vacations this year, tell about your favorite one. If you had three surgeries, tell about the one health issue that is causing you the most concern.
You might love reading the details of someone else’s every highlight and low moment of the past year, but you’re not everyone, and your recipients might not find it as interesting. Just something to keep in mind as you pen your personal post!
Try to keep them to one page, double spaced, size 12 or 14 font, and add in two or three photos. Then you’ll probably be sharing the right amount of detail of your life for your general audience. Some people will have a special interest in various parts of your life: job, children, travel, and such. For those people, hand-write the extra details they’ll love reading on the page or on an additional piece of paper to include in your Christmas card. Usually, a three-sentence paragraph for each member of the household is plenty. Then make sure the last paragraph of your letter focuses on your readers. Here’s where you’ll write your wishes for their holiday and the New Year. You always end on a high note when you end by wishing others well!
How Should Christmas Cards Be Inserted into the Envelopes?
Place your card in the envelope facing the back of the envelope so that, when opening it from the back, the recipient will see the pretty front of the card first. The fold of the card (if there is one) should be at the top of the envelope (near where the envelope is sealed) with the open edge of the card at the bottom of the envelope. In this way, the card is ready for the recipient to read just like a book that is laid right side up. It’s a small but kind gesture!
When Should Christmas Cards Be Mailed? Is It Too Late to Send My Christmas Cards?
You want your card to arrive sometime between December 1 and Christmas Eve. However, the Christmas season doesn’t officially end until after the 12 Days of Christmas (like in the song!). The 12 days begin on Christmas Day and end the evening of January 5. That’s when Three Kings Day or Epiphany is celebrated. If you’re unfamiliar with The 12 Days of Christmas and Epiphany, the history is fascinating. This article on Christmas.com gives a quick and fascinating rundown of what each of the 12 Days celebrate or memorialize.
So you actually have until January 5 for your Christmas cards to arrive.
However, the more modern etiquette of when Christmas cards should arrive takes into account that a lot of people like to incorporate Christmas cards they receive into their Christmas decor. For that reason it’s nice to send Christmas cards so they arrive around December 15. That gives the recipient about two weeks prior to Christmas to enjoy your card.
Can You Send New Year’s Cards Instead of Christmas Cards? When Should New Year’s Cards Arrive?
If you’re running late and you don’t want your Christmas cards to arrive after December 25, or you don’t celebrate Christmas, then sending New Year’s cards is always a special touch. New Year’s cards can arrive any time between December 26 and the end of the second week of January.
Should You Send a Christmas Card to Someone You Know Doesn’t Celebrate Christmas?
The short answer is no. If you receive a card celebrating a religion that you don’t celebrate, it won’t convert you or even mean anything to you, except maybe confuse or frustrate you. For the same reason, you shouldn’t send a Christmas card to someone who doesn’t celebrate Christmas.
Instead, send a card to that person for the winter holiday they do celebrate. They will appreciate your kindness and thoughtfulness for remembering them and their special holiday. Send Hanukkah cards to Jewish friends and Eid al-Fitr cards to Muslim friends.
If someone is agnostic and goes along with the gift-giving of Christmas and the festive nature of the season, then it’s OK to send that person a Christmas card.
Should a Business Send a Card with Christmas or Religious Greetings?
In general, most businesses send cards to clients and customers without knowledge of their religious practices. For that reason, sending a Happy Holidays card is best. However, if you know the clients or customers well enough to know they celebrate Christmas, you can send them a Christmas card with a religious illustration or message.
Other options for businesses are starting early and sending Thanksgiving cards instead of Christmas or Holiday cards, or sending New Year’s Cards.
Why Sending Christmas Cards Is Back in Style
In our increasingly techno-based world, people are appreciating the small but real thrill of receiving a hand-addressed and signed card in their mailbox. Because of this, sending Christmas cards is back in style in a big way after almost becoming extinct.
Christmas card manners let you enjoy putting pen to paper (card!) and pouring a little love into each one as you write your message and seal it closed.
If you think about it, you’ll come to realize that our DNA is on the cards we send. It’s almost as if, when I open the cards I’ve received, I can feel which ones were sent in a hurried rush to mark “send out Christmas cards” off someone’s to-do list and which ones were sent in the true spirit of the Season.
So decide to make sending your cards something you’re going to look forward to instead of something you feel that you “have to do.” Pour your favorite beverage, play your favorite holiday playlist, get comfy, settle in, and decide to savor your time as you write your cards. When done with purpose, sending Christmas cards, or any card, doesn’t seem like a chore. And you’ll be experiencing Christmas joy as you’re in the very act of spreading it!
Here are some other very popular Christmas posts you might want to check out to keep yourself shining as bright and lovely as the lights on the Christmas trees. You’ll be confident, gracious, and at your best during this special Season!
Until next time, do what you were born to do — bless the world by being authentically you at your best!