Holiday Card Etiquette Tips

Woman hanging up Holiday cards for decoration
Many people enjoy putting their holiday cards on display. Westend61 / Getty Images

Sending holiday cards used to be easy. All you had to do was purchase preprinted cards, take them home, pull out your list, jot a few personal notes, address them, and get them in the mail early enough to arrive by Christmas. The one thing that remains the same is that the purpose of sending a holiday card is to show you're thinking of others during this time of year.

Different Holidays

These days it’s more complicated than that.

There are now a variety of holidays to consider during the season, and you need to be considerate of what people celebrate. If you don’t know, there’s nothing wrong with asking people if they have a holiday preference and what it is.

In addition to the most common celebrations, such as Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanza, there are other holidays between Thanksgiving and Christmas. It’s appropriate to send cards related to any of these holidays. Remember that most people aren’t offended if you wish them a happy holiday or say, “Peace on earth,” because that shows the spirit of the season for almost everyone.  

Print vs. Electronic

Print cards have been the standard holiday greeting for decades, but the trend is shifting. People still send hardcopy cards, but it’s acceptable to send an e-card to most people.

However, it’s important to keep in mind several factors, such as:

  • People who don’t have easy access to the Internet will appreciate a print card that they can feel and display with the rest of their greetings.
  • If someone is in a hospital or nursing home, a print holiday greeting card has much more impact on the patient than an e-card would.
  • There’s nothing wrong with sending both if you have the time. Mail the printed card at least a week ahead of the holiday and send the e-card whenever you want.
  • You may want to send a combination of e-cards to some people who prefer not receiving paper and print cards to others who love putting their cards on display.

    Personal Messages

    Always include a personal message in your holiday cards. It’s sometimes tempting to just sign your name, stick the card in the envelope, and slap a stamp on it. Resist the urge. Make it personal and let the person know you’re thinking about him or her.

    If you’re sending quite a few cards, you may worry that you’ll run out of ideas for things to write. You don’t have to come up with a completely different personal greeting for each and every card, but if something special has happened to the person recently, you may want to mention that. It’s always appropriate to wish for joy, happiness, and blessings throughout the holiday season.

    Personalized Cards

    Many families enjoy sending holiday cards with their picture on the front. This is a festive way to extend a personal greeting. Make sure it's in good taste and appropriate for your entire list of recipients.

    Important Information

    Have you ever received a holiday card from someone who forgot to sign it? Most people have, and it’s frustrating to try to figure out where it came from. Before you put the card in the envelope, make sure you sign it by the name the recipient is familiar with. Even if the card is preprinted with your name, please sign the card to give it a more personal touch.

    You’ll also need to include the full address of the recipient as well as your return address on the envelope. People move so often, it’ll be nice to know if the person you’re sending the card to is no longer at the address you have on file.

    Addressing the Envelope

    Your relationship with the recipient should determine how you address the card. If you’re close friends with the family, you should use their first names. However, if this is a business relationship or one that requires a more respectful tone, use the last names.

    Here are some examples:

    • Family friends – John and Susan Jacobs
    • Boss and her husband – Mr. and Mrs. Matthews
    • Pastor and his wife – Pastor (or Reverend) and Mrs. Graham

    Personal or Family Newsletter

    The trend of enclosing a newsletter with all of the major events that have taken place since the last holiday season is still going strong.

    There’s nothing wrong with having a family newsletter, but only send it to people that you know will care. Many people are annoyed when they receive these long messages from others they barely know.

    When to Send the Card

    If you’re sending a holiday card, chances are you want it to arrive before the actual day you’re celebrating. It’s a good idea to give the USPS at least a week or more to deliver it. The ideal amount of time to send holiday greeting cards is a couple of weeks in advance.

    Don’t send it too early. Wait until a few days after Thanksgiving, at least. If you know you’ll be busy then and have some time before Thanksgiving, go ahead and get the cards ready to mail. But put them away until the timing is right.

    Business Holiday Card Etiquette

    If you’re the owner or manager of a business, it’s always good form to send holiday greeting cards to clients and vendors. Keep the message simple, brief, and professional. Don’t include too much personal information on any card that you’ll be sending to a business. Many businesses have a receptionist or someone in the mailroom who opens all envelopes.

    If you are also friends with another business owner, and you want to include a more personal message, send it to their home. Even if you send a card to a person’s home, if you’d like to extend the greeting to the rest of their staff, you may send another card to their office.

    Important Things to Consider with Holiday E-Cards

    Make sure you choose an e-card at a reliable, trusted source. You don’t want to create an opportunity for hackers to make your family and friends’ lives miserable.

    Another issue is that some of the e-cards take quite a long time to download. If any of the recipients have slow Internet, they might not be able to view one with a video attached.

    Many people enjoy going back to their cards and reading the messages inside. E-cards don’t typically get printed or stay with the recipient longer than it takes to see it one time.

    Another issue with e-cards is that each person in the family typically has his or her own email address, so not everyone is likely to see it.

    If you want to electronically send greetings to a whole family, you’ll need to send one to each person individually.