12/04/2012 05:18 pm ET Updated Feb 03, 2013

Handwritten Holiday Cards: A Tradition Ready for Extinction

Growing up, every Thanksgiving weekend represented several traditions: a big gathering of friends and family on Turkey Day, a holiday tree-trimming party and writing holiday greeting cards.

When I was young, I remember the stacks of holiday cards my mom would write; in each one, a thoughtful note or sentiment that would let the recipient know that as a family we were thinking of them and wishing them and theirs, a beautiful holiday season. Mom always purchased a sufficient number of cards within all possible categories -- Christmas cards, Chanukah cards, New Year's cards, you name it -- so each recipient would be wished the appropriate greeting.

Through watching my mom, I grew to understand that the purpose of sending holiday cards was to send wishes that were heartfelt and meaningful; a personal "I'm thinking of you" at this time of year sentiment. And of course, our family always loved hearing from people through their greetings as well. The tradition of "gifting each other with warm wishes" was something I truly loved.

When I became old enough to start writing my own holiday cards, I followed in my mother's footsteps. I, too, purchased cards for different celebrations, and took time to write a handwritten note in each. And when I got married, the tradition continued.

In recent years, the tradition as I have known it, has morphed into something different. For starters, more and more of the holiday greeting cards we receive have gone from the store-bought kind to a photographic snap-shot of one's life: pictures of the kids, pictures of the pets, and if one is single, childless and "petless," pictures of oneself traveling the world or enjoying their hobbies. I love seeing pictures of friends and their growing families or exciting adventures. In many ways, this makes the holiday card a lot more personal. That said, the part that leaves me feeling that the tradition has become less personal is how a printed greeting -- often a generic "Seasons Greetings from the Smith Family" has often replaced the personalized handwritten note, or even handwritten signature. And in some cases, senders go a step further, outsourcing the whole process to the printer, meaning the card, the envelope, the stamp and the mailing are all handled by the printer that prints the card, never even touching the hands of the sender.

I wondered if my disappointment was mine alone, or if others shared my feelings. As a result, I decided to take an informal poll of my friends and fans, asking the simple question: "What is your biggest pet peeve when it comes to holiday cards?" -- purposefully asking an open-ended question so as to not lead them to "agree" or "disagree" with mine. The replies were astounding. Hands down, almost everyone who participated stated that they don't like "cards with no handwritten note or signature." Other pet peeves included holiday cards sent before December (which I admit I've been guilty of), the photocopied mass-letter with all of the family updates and well, holiday cards in general.

In a world where we seem busier than ever, barely having time for the "to dos" and where invitations and cards, in many instances, are now sent electronically, maybe the handwritten note is obsolete. Maybe, the whole notion of sending a card via snail-mail will become extinct altogether. Given the ups and downs of the post office, I guess that isn't too crazy of an idea. Yet, if my informal poll is any indication, this is not the preferred approach. If people actually prefer handwritten notes in cards, why are we not writing them? And for those of us who do write the personalized greeting, is it even appreciated by those who don't?

Now that my husband and I will soon be parents and are contemplating life with a little one, I am cognizant of the fact that I, too, am in a place in life where the "family portrait" holiday card might be appropriate. But when it comes to the second piece, I know, regardless of the card's design or graphic, I will most likely stick with the handwritten message in every card that gets mailed (as long as the post office is open for business). Maybe one day I'll change, but it is hard for me to see my "entrenched-in-tradition self" giving that up.

What are your thoughts on the holiday greeting card? Do you write handwritten notes or take the printed version approach? Why or why not? Do you think the snail-mail holiday greeting card will soon become extinct?