Holiday Card Etiquette: Sending Cards That Don't Embarrass Yourself

Holiday Card Etiquette: Sending Cards That Don't Embarrass Yourself

Chloe Seaman
December 13, 2016

People have been making holiday card faux pas since the first Christmas card ever.

When Henry Cole, a “prominent educator and patron of the arts,” sent the first Christmas card in 1843, some people thought he was encouraging underage drinking. How did that happen? Well, Cole sent an illustration of a family sitting at a table celebrating the holidays, which included children enjoying “what appear to be glasses of wine.” Some people were outraged, but Cole was just striking an idea that became a tradition – to send cards to family and friends during the holidays.

If you’ve made a past holiday card mistake, you’re not alone.

To save you from social embarrassment, here are tips you should know before sending out holiday cards this year:

“Merry Christmas,” “Happy Holidays,” or…

When you’re not sure what holiday someone celebrates, choose a generic card to send – something that says ‘Happy Holidays’ or ‘Seasons Greetings.’ People who don’t celebrate Christmas will appreciate the gesture. But if you’re sending to people who do celebrate Christmas, it’s nice to send them a “Merry Christmas.” When you order your cards, choose two styles; one for those who celebrate Christmas and one for those who don’t.

Include your return address

It’s common etiquette to include your return address so your recipient knows who it came from. Always put your return address at the top left corner of a letter. Then, everybody you send a card to has the option to send you a thank-you note or letter back. It’s also a good way to let people know your current address, since the holidays are all about reconnecting.

There’s nothing worse than a blank message

It would be very disappointing to receive a blank card that’s only addressed to you on the envelope. That’s why it’s only decent to write the person or family member’s names on the inside of the card, at the very least. A short message would be even better.

How to address names

This is the formal way to write your recipient’s names on the envelope and card: “Mr. and Mrs. John Smith.” This is the casual way: “John and Mary Smith.” If a couple shares the same last name, the wife’s name comes after her husband’s. But if they have different last names, the woman’s name goes on the top line and the man’s name below that.

Don’t send family photos to people you work with

That goofy, ridiculous or “just-perfect!” family photo is best to be kept for family and close friends. Don’t send personalized photos to business associates or co-workers. Instead, it’s fine to send the people you work a more professional holiday card design, sans the family photo, picture of you and your dog wearing Santa hats, picture of you on a Caribbean cruise…you get the picture.

Another tip for sending cards to business associates or clients: Make sure their spouse’s name is included on the envelope.

The deal with digital

Digital cards may be okay in some cases. But real cards tend to feel like a sincerer effort to show someone you’re thinking about them during the holidays. Your recipients can have the satisfaction of displaying your card on their fireplace mantle! If you decide to do digital, it’s important you don’t send in bulk, as your cards could end up in your recipient’s spam folder. Also, make sure you have their current email address. Though it may be okay to send digital cards to some people, most like getting a card in the mail.

The earlier the better

You don’t want your cards arriving at your friends and family’s doors on Christmas day, or even a few days before. Mid-December is a good time to send. Remember that bad winter weather can make the post office delayed, so plan accordingly.

Holiday newsletters are for close friends and family

Sharing the details of your life and what everyone in the family has been up to the past year is nice for those you’re close with. Avoid sending holiday newsletters to anyone you don’t know well or just met a few times.

Get the right information

Make sure you have current addresses for everyone you’re sending a holiday card to. BeenVerified keeps up-to-date info on people’s addresses, so double check that your cards will be going to the right place.

Disclaimer: The above is solely intended for informational purposes and in no way constitutes legal advice or specific recommendations.