Christmas card, oh Christmas card, your custom is now changing
Yule not be getting a Christmas card from Mercy Alvarado -- or a lot of other people -- this year.
Sending holiday cards, said Alvarado, 35, who lives in Harlem, is just too time-consuming and expensive. Besides, "you have all your family on Facebook," where they are updated on the doings of your nuclear family all year long, making an annual note or letter unnecessary, the receptionist added.
Americans are projected to buy 1.6 billion holiday cards this Christmas season, according to the Greeting Card Association. But the greeting card market in general has experienced a 9% decline since 2005 -- a slump projected to continue through 2015, according to Mintel, a market research company headquartered in London. Consumers are replacing holiday cards -- about 30% of the market -- with photo cards and digital communications, according to Mintel.
The annual ritual of sitting down and addressing dozens or even hundreds of letters is a habit that many time-pressed, digitally distracted people are dropping or simply not acquiring at all: Alvarado noted that her 14-year-old son was unaware that Christmas cards needed stamps in order to reach their destination.
"You say 'Merry Christmas!' to all your friends on Facebook," explained Vanessa Reyes, 17, of Washington Heights. The only person who sends her actual cards any more, she said, "is my grandmother."
Welcome to the era of the Christmas tweet. (We're tweetin' to you, Pope Benedict.)
The Christmas card tradition was first eroded by the invention of the telephone, and further weakened by the advent of cheap long distance phone calls in the 1970s and 1980s, said Robert Thompson, professor of popular culture at Syracuse University. Social media has now made te custom of sending an annual update to family redundant, said Thompson, allowing that those who grew up devouring annual updates in a physical mailbox may mourn the loss of the "artifacts."
While declining to release sales figures, representatives of the greeting card industry steadfastly insist cards are still vital to observing Christ's birth. Christmas "is the largest holiday card sending occasion in the U.S. and half of all adults buy at least one holiday greeting card," said Patrice Sadd, spokes woman for American Greetings Corp. in Cleveland, Ohio. Sadd acknowledged that her company has diversified to offer mobile apps that allow people to send cards from phone to phone, allows customers to design personalized cards on line, and to send both digital and "e" cards. "They still want to connect this time of year. They're just finding other ways to do it," said Sadd. While sales haven't evaporated, "people buy one or two boxes instead of six or seven," observed Gary Alaimo, owner of the Hell's Kitchen store Delphinium Home, which stocks a wide range of high quality cards. Fewer people are sending fewer cards, but there are still "thoughtful people who want to reach out and make the effort," as well as savvy networkers who send cards annually to business contacts, he noted.
In fact, you may receive more cards from your dentist, realtor, or others grateful for your pecuniary attention than from your relatives and loved ones. Business people "want to cash in on the notion of Ye Olde Holiday Card," and exploit the sentiment and emotions we attach to them," said Thompson. "You're able to keep in touch with the people you love 24 hours a day," via text, tweet, Skype and social media, "but you probably haven't friended your insurance agent on Facebook and you're probably not opening his emails," Thompson said.
Alaimo specializes in arty, sardonic, and witty cards. "I can't sell religious cards anymore: They just don't buy them! What does that say?" Alaimo observed.
It's unclear what the decline of the annual epistolary exchange augers for the many charity and religious organizations, and other nonprofits that sell holiday cards to raise money. Free Arts NYC sells cards created anew each year from the designs drawn by the six-to-12-year-old children who participate in Free Arts NYC programs. Sales of the cards, "triple back to us," in terms of revenue, relationship building and increasing the public's awareness of the organization's programs, said F.A.N. special events coordinator Brittany McVicker. Executives have discussed "scanning the kids' artwork into an e-card kind of thing" in the event that card sales tank, said McVicker. The big purchasers of the Free Arts NYC's cards -- corporate supporters who buy multiples of the $15, 12-card boxes that they either send to clients or give to employees -- are not as susceptible to the same pressures that cause time-starved moms to ditch their December dispatches, she said. "They want to give a gift that gives in more than one way," said McVicker. "Just because cards are old school doesn't mean they aren't good. From a relationship building point of view, there is still value in hand written notes. It's hard to make someone feel special over the Internet."