12/09/2010 11:36 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Holiday greetings past and present


The first commercially produced Christmas Card

Getting a hand-written card or note from an old friend or even a new acquaintance always gives me a warm, fuzzy feeling. The increasing rarity of that gesture makes it even more special.

But like many others, my own holiday card list has dwindled in size in recent years. The U.S. Postal Service keeps track of holiday greeting cards mailed nationwide. In its most recent analysis, from 2007 to 2009, there was a 7.5 percent decrease in the number of cards sent by Americans.

So I'm not alone and I suspect this trend is due to a host of factors: growing pressures to conserve time and energy; the urge to keep things green and paperless; escalating costs of both postage and cards; the surge in the use of instant e-cards and emails; and the desire to craft more personal messages than can be found on a card written by someone else.

Massachusetts-based Crane & Co. is older than me. They've been in the paper business for more than two centuries, producing beautiful stationery and cards, for personal and business correspondence. (They've also held the contract to produce U.S. currency for the past 130 years.) Even with that rich history, the company is embracing the shifts in customs and etiquette brought about by new technologies and changes in the way we live.

"Crane has been in the social networking business since notices to gather patriots were tacked to The Liberty Tree," says Eliza Browning, a seventh-generation member of the family-owned company. With a master's degree in journalism and international affairs from Columbia and digital media experience with CNN, ABC News' London bureau, and the Associated Press, Elizabeth is Director of Crane Digital. I was happy to ask Eliza several questions about holiday cards and notes:

Is there any obligation to send holiday cards or notes?

Many people use the holiday season as a way of staying in touch with family and friends. Sending holiday cards, family letters and thank you notes is a tradition for many and a thoughtful way of sending season's greetings, no matter what you celebrate. You are not, however, obliged to send a holiday card. It's purely a matter of choice and entirely up the sender. Many of us enjoy sending cards because it has become increasingly less common to open a note that has arrived in the mail.

Have traditions changed in terms of Christmas letters/holiday cards?

At Crane & Co., we've been making personalized holiday cards for more than 150 years and we've been supplying paper for those who make cards since the end of the Civil War. One of my favorites from the archive is the 1942 Christmas card we produced for President Franklin D. Roosevelt. He and First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt are shown sitting at a table at the White House wishing "happier times to come." Although the act of sending holiday cards has not changed over the years, the type of card always does. Engraved cards are perennial favorites, but Letterpress and photo cards are both used frequently. Photo cards are a terrific way of giving a glimpse of your family each year.

What are your thoughts about sending holiday e-cards vs. mailing a physical card?

Holiday e-cards are becoming more and more popular for people in search of a convenient way to send greetings to loved ones. Many prefer this alternative because it is often less expensive and more convenient. Still, nothing compares to the touch and feel of a physical card. If you want to make a lasting and personal impression, I recommend sending a paper card, though I do understand the attraction to e-cards.

Should I be acknowledging or thanking friends for the cards I receive?

You are under no obligation to send a thank you note or a return holiday card to acknowledge the reception of either. The sender should not expect to receive personal acknowledgements. If you do happen to see someone from whom you have received a holiday card, we recommend you thank him or her in person. This may sound easy, but it is often difficult to keep at the top of your mind. That's why I hang all of my holiday cards on a string at home until after the holidays. It's a nice decoration and is also a good way of remembering who sent you what.

How have your holiday card habits changed?

Two free, fun resources from Crane and Co.:

How to write a holiday letter in 11 minutes
(the time it takes to bake a batch of cookies)

The Crane BlueBook app on Facebook offers daily etiquette tips adapted to the digital age, borrowing from the Blue Book of Stationery, a classic guide on etiquette, personal and professional correspondences - and adapted it to the digital age.

You might also be interested in this recent article from The Washington Post: Did you know? Holiday Cards by the Numbers