Goodbye Christmas cards?

Slate published a piece this week that I've wondered for a while now: Did Facebook Kill the Christmas Card? Many people reveal their most significant moments of the year through a Facebook status or photo, perhaps eliminating the need for the annual letter or photo card. It seems like even e-cards are disappearing.

Part of me enjoys this annual tradition because Christmas cards are one of the only fun pieces of mail we get anymore. We enjoy hearing from our friends and relatives across the country and put picture ones on our fridge. The other part of me wonders about the money, time, trees, and, well, we just don't have any puppies or babies to photograph. Thanks to Picasa, Facebook, text messaging, and e-mail, I can view pictures of my little nieces to my heart's content.

Sandra M. Jones' piece Chicago Tribune gives the latest numbers and sneaks in a little bit of history of the Christmas card.

Although Christmas remains the holiday that sparks the most greeting-card sales, fewer people send cards each year, according to Unity Marketing. The percentage of consumers buying greeting cards for Christmas fell from 77 percent in 2005 to 73 percent in 2007 and to 62 percent in 2009, according to the Stevens, Pa.-based market research firm.

...British businessman Henry Cole is credited with creating the Christmas card in 1843 - as a way to save time. Too busy to write a personal holiday greeting, Cole hired a well-known London artist to design a card he could send to all his acquaintances, according to a version of the story recounted by greeting-card maker Hallmark Cards Inc. Louis Prang, a German immigrant, is said to have brought the Christmas-card tradition to America in 1875, printing a card depicting Killarney roses and the words "Merry Christmas."

...Although greeting cards have faced competition from the Internet for years, online or e-cards still represent less than 1 percent of the estimated $11 billion annual greeting card market, according to Mintel.

I'd be curious whether certain kinds of people (more religious, less religious, middle class, older, younger, etc.) are more likely send Christmas cards. While some might dislike the monetary or environmental cost, perhaps others see Christmas cards as an outlet for evangelism. Adelle M. Banks of Religion News Service reports that retailers are seeing a higher demand for religiously-themed Christmas cards.

Target, which would not disclose sales figures, said demand for religious Christmas cards is increasing, with higher sales this year than last. ...Hallmark officials also declined to give specific sales statistics, but said religious-themed cards featuring the artwork of Thomas Kinkade are usually among their top 10 best sellers.

DaySpring Cards, a Hallmark subsidiary and one of the largest manufacturers of religious Christmas cards, say demand has remained steady. Christmas cards comprise 73 percent of the company's sales of boxed cards, said spokeswoman Brenda Turner.

...Overall, Christmas cards--both secular and religious--remain the mainstay of all greeting cards sold, with about 30 percent of them featuring religious or inspirational messages or imagery, according to the Greeting Card Association.

On the other hand, The Telegraph reports the opposite trend in England.

Nativity scenes or references to the bible story feature on fewer than one in 25 cards, according to a survey by The Sunday Telegraph.

Christian groups said the findings were "disappointing" and blamed the situation on "political correctness".

The survey of more than 2,100 card designs in four stores--WHSmith, Marks & Spencer, Clinton Cards and Paperchase--found only 82 featured any religious reference.

Most instead depicted Christmas trees, Father Christmas or non-religious messages such as 'Season's Greetings'. The baby Jesus was shown on only 13 cards--less than one per cent of the total.

Perhaps its part of what Pope Benedict XVI considers "aggressive secularism" in Britain and why he recorded a broadcast specifically for the BBC for Christmas. Then again, surveying the cover images of Christmas cards may not be the best indicator. For instance, a Thomas Kinkade card (sorry to make some of you shudder) probably won't have a distinctly religious image on the cover.

One argument for hard copies of things like Christmas cards, yearbooks, newspapers, etc. is that you have a marker for that set period of time that indicates, "This is what was important during this time." If people replace Facebook for these hard copies, are we placing less emphasis on the act of reflection?

Even though we didn't send Christmas cards this year, we're still planning to send thank you notes (the paper ones and everything) for gifts received. What about your family? Have you changed your Christmas card-sending habits in the past few years? Did you notice any difference in the ones you received this year, religious or otherwise?

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