Christmas Cards in an Instant Age

Emily Robertson | October 14th 2021

When I was a child in the late eighties, every year our family used to receive literally hundreds of Christmas cards. Each December, the ceiling of the lounge was transformed into a display that resembled a carousel, as string was pinned into the wall from corner to corner and then, as the numbers grew, from more random points across the room. Every time the lounge door opened, a gust of air would be sent through the display, lifting them momentarily from their position, and leaving whoever had entered a little unnerved as to whether they were about to get a wave of cards, string and drawing pins landing on their head!

Just as the ceiling was transformed by the season, so too our dining room table was increasingly dominated by piles of cards and envelopes ready to be tasked with the job of sending personal greetings to everyone in our family address book. My mum would spend evening upon evening writing personal messages to those close to home, and to those whom she hadn’t seen for years. The task was monumental. And prioritised. The cards—both sent and received—symbolised relationships that had stood the test of both time and distance.

As the years have passed, things have really changed… but have they changed for the better?

"The time required to hand write, envelope, and send a card can seem, at times, unnecessary. But, arguably, much is lost when we neglect to send physical, handwritten signs of relationship to those we know and love."

Sending Cards in a Digital Age

Despite Royal Mail in the UK recording that more than 6 in 10 people like to receive a Christmas card over any other form of festive communication, the sending of personal, handwritten greetings seems to have waned. And, in an age where messages can be sent in an instant, the time required to hand write, envelope, and send a card can seem, at times, unnecessary. Other methods of communication are quicker, cheaper, and require less time and financial investment. But, arguably, much is lost when we neglect to send physical, handwritten signs of relationship to those we know and love.

There’s something wonderfully warming about receiving a handwritten card or letter. Having endured multiple lockdowns over the last 18 months, the importance of letters, parcels and personal signs of relationship over physical distance has been brought into sharper focus. Every card that was sent or received symbolised connection that couldn’t be expressed in other ways. The arrival of the postman was a moment that brought every family member to the door. Not only was the card or letter received with joy and expectation, but the physical place it then took on a mantlepiece or shelf was a constant reminder of the sender. The card itself stood as testimony to relationships that were enduring under life’s pressures.

Arguably, the same could not be said of digital greetings. 

While valued, text messages, emails and zoom calls were unable to take the place of physical human greetings, and so while appreciated, they quickly elicited fatigue and frustration in a way that the physical art of sending and receiving did not. Digital greetings were read and discarded; physical ones savoured and enjoyed long past the moment of receipt. 

The Importance of Physical Cards and Letters

Lockdowns aside, the physical permanence of written communications should not be underestimated. I have a memory box full of cards and letters that have been sent to me over the course of my life. Some of them squirrelled away because they serve as precious reminders of messages of encouragement and relationships that I have treasured. The handwritten words on the page have faded over time, but the sentiments they contain have lasted far longer than those contained in a text message or an email. At intervals throughout my life, it has been a joy to revisit them, to trace the handwriting, and to feel the personal connection, that though faded, has not been lost.

It seems that we have a lot to learn from children on this subject: While I have been slow to develop a habit of sending cards and letters, the inherent joy of the activity is not lost on my daughter. Each Christmas season, my 9-year old anticipates the thrill of sending and receiving cards—months before Christmas arrives—and each year a yearly pilgrimage is made to our local shops in order to purchase a collection of cards that she can send to those in her class. A list is drawn up, a collection of chocolate coins put aside as a sweet treat to include inside, and then the card-writing begins. She can see its value: she has benefited from the joy of partaking in the exchange, and so she is encouraged to do the same. 

With all this in mind, this Christmas season, rather than sending out a hurried text message or email, I’m going to endeavour to learn lessons from the year just past and take the time to put pen to paper (or card!) in a way that reminds people they are loved, cared for and remembered. It may only take a moment for me to write, but the words of encouragement could last a lifetime. 

Will you join me?

Emily Robertson

Emily specialises in email marketing at TGBC, where she works on product launches, promotions, and brand campaigns. Emily lives in Chessington, South West London, with her husband Dave, and their 2 lively daughters. Emily studied English Literature at Cambridge University before joining TGBC marketing team.

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