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The Hill Life: Guest Post, Holiday Cards

This year, I have resolved to send my Christmas cards out the day after Thanksgiving. I think sending cards to business colleagues is a great way to build that congenial relationship without spending a lot of money. Because I have my holiday cards customized, I turned to my friend, and resident CHS paper expert, Virginia, for some advice on stylish holiday cards for the masses.

Belle (and Nordstrom) might believe that the holidays don’t really begin until after Thanksgiving, but I beg to differ. The day after Halloween I fully embrace the Starbucks red cup and influx of jewelry commercials on TV (Every kiss begins with Kay!) – and I start thinking about what is one of my favorite aspects of this time of year – holiday cards!

I love this card from Flora and Fauna Press because it reminds me of beautiful DC rowhouses!

What? That isn’t your favorite part of the Holiday Season, too? I love sending cards and opening my mailbox every day in December to find greetings from friends and family from all over the ends of the earth. I even love the family update letters and really do care that my second cousin Bob finally realized his dream of visiting the Grand Canyon this year (the more bragging in the letter, the better for my entertainment!)

Unfortunately, I worry that the art of the card is going the way of the U.S. Postal Service and soon we will be only sending each other half-hearted electronic greetings or worse, nothing at all. I know that sending out holiday cards takes some time and effort but I truly believe that it’s worth it to take a few hours on a December afternoon to personally say hello and send your wishes of peace and joy this holiday season.

Here’s some tips for you as you think about getting started:

1) Make your list, and check it twice: Obviously, the first place to start if you haven’t been sending out cards regularly is to make a list of all the people you want to send cards to. Make an excel file with the person or family’s name and address and update it regularly as you learn of address changes throughout the year. Although this can be time consuming the first year, you only have to do it once and can be used each year as you add folks and cross some off. If you were recently married, this task becomes a lot easier as you can just start with your wedding invite list and go from there.

Deciding who to send a card to shouldn’t be rocket science – start with friends and family that you’re regularly in touch with. Then start thinking about people in your outer circle – maybe families in your neighborhood play group and the co-worker that you’ve gotten to know better over the last year. Think about if you would like to receive a greeting from them and if the answer is yes, add ’em to the list.

Should you send a Holiday card to your boss? That’s more difficult – and it depends entirely on the relationship you have with him or her. If you’ve been working for the same woman for 10 years and know her family well, go ahead and send a greeting from your family to hers at her house. But if you’re a first-year staff assistant on the Hill you can always opt to leave a more professional greeting in the boss’ inbox or just say something personally before you part ways for the Holidays.

2) Find YOUR card – This is my favorite part and one that I spend way too much time on – picking out the cards! Depending on how many folks you want to send a card to, you can buy a giant pack at Target/order 200 photo cards or just pick up a few 10-card packs. The best part of this process is picking out a card that matches your personality – Whether you want to strike a cute, religious, preppy, professional, or modern tone – or just let your family’s picture be the focus – there is a card out there for you.

As a paper lover, I tend to favor independent designers who have used screenprinting or letterpress techniques, but they tend to have a higher price point and might not be realistic if you have a lot of people to send to. I tend to buy my favorite letterpress cards off of etsy for my close friends and family and then find a cute, but less expensive, pack of cards for the rest of my list.

3) Write it out: I’m about to say something that may be controversial, judging by the cards I get each year that are missing this crucial aspect. If you choose to send a photo card, WRITE SOMETHING ON THE CARD BEFORE PUTTING IT IN THE ENVELOPE. I’m not talking about writing a long note – I’m talking, “Happy Holidays! XOXO, The West Family.” Every year it seems to get worse; I get picture card after picture card that says absolutely nothing personal. It says, “I cared about you seeing how cute my family looks” and really nothing else. It is not that hard to sit in front of the tv and write a short note to each person – “Have a wonderful holiday!” “Can’t wait to see you in the New Year!” “Hope Santa’s good to you this year!” Really, ANYTHING is better than just sticking that card in the mail with absolutely nothing handwritten and personal. This is my plea to you photo-card senders to take it up a notch this year!

A cute set of 4 holiday cards from Dahlia Press Shop

Oh, and that antiquated rule about how you’re supposed to get your cards out by Thanksgiving? It no longer applies. These days, people are lucky if they get them out before Christmas. It’s entirely okay to send them anytime during December. And if you don’t get them done, feel free to send out “Happy New Year” cards instead!

I can’t end this post without sharing a few of my favorite holiday cards this season – and please share your holiday card tips or rants in the comments, too.

Thanks for having me, Belle! XOXO, Virginia

If you are a fellow paper lover, you can also check out Virginia’s new blog, A Papered Life.



  1. Rachel says:

    I absolutely resist Christmas until after Thanksgiving. But the Friday after, I'm itching to get out those cards. It's my favorite part of the holiday as well.

    November 23, 2011/Reply
  2. nic says:

    Couldn't agree more re: the photo cards. Love the sweet faces of my friends' kids but you couldn't write something simple on the back of the picture? The worst is when I get one of those photo cards with not just a computer printed return address label, but a printed label for my address, too. Congrats on taking 30 seconds to stick a photo in an envelope, pals!

    November 23, 2011/Reply
  3. R says:

    I think you have mis-interpreted the photo only cards as being not thoughtful. Frankly, I have a two career house with a 3-yr old. Both my husband and I work 60+ hours per week plus commutes. I have a hard time even spending time with my child. I take precious time out to get the photo cards out because I do enjoy sending my friends and family a note at the holidays. Frankly, with the conditions of my lifestyle, that's enough. I don't want to hijack this thread – but I will say that these expectations (which sound a bit judgmental) like sending a note with a photo card at the holidays, feels a little like we are expecting super-moms/women/families. Sometimes you have to pick your battles and what's important. It'd be nice to not be judged negatively on what's not there and instead think positively about what is.

    November 23, 2011/Reply
  4. MA says:

    If a recipient isn't important enough for you to scribble a one sentence greeting on a card then why not pare your list down and focus on only your closer/friends and family? I don't think it is judgemental at all to suggest that a mass produced card comes across as impersonal… because anything mass produced is impersonal by default. And as I've said before: my understanding is that this blog is about one woman's opinion. I hardly think it was her intention to place judgement on her thousands of faceless readers, she was just asserting her opinion.

    November 23, 2011/Reply
  5. J says:

    I love to send cards year round even without an occasion (I really hope the postal service never closes completely!) so I especially love holidays. Choosing an appropriate and beautiful holiday card if often a challenge because i like them to be secular, which means i usually choose one that is blank and then write an individualized message in each one. it does take quite a bit of time and effort but I find that it's very relaxing and helps me reflect on why friends and family are important to me.

    November 23, 2011/Reply
  6. VA says:

    Agree with the original post and with MA. A card with nary a word written on it feels impersonal to the recipient. I'm not saying people don't have the right to send them, and I certainly understand that the holidays are busy (for everyone, not just parents), but getting a blank card makes me feel like I was just a name to check off on your list.

    November 23, 2011/Reply
  7. R says:

    I can see “judgmental” was the incorrect word choice. What I was saying was that while the author interpreted a photo card as “It says, “I cared about you seeing how cute my family looks” and really nothing else.”, the author should also consider context as this interpretation can be quite off. To a very busy person sending a photo card may be all there is time for. Lastly, although it's handwritten, “Hope Santa's good to you this year!” isn't very personal.

    November 23, 2011/Reply
  8. ss says:

    I have a soft spot for beautiful paper products and have already book-marked the lovely and like-minded A Papered Life. But Belle, may we see a sample of your customised cards too ?

    November 24, 2011/Reply
  9. SC says:

    Thanks for this post reminding me to write out my holiday card list this weekend! I bought the cards already, but as I just found out a few more family friends moved to the DMV area, my list needs to be updated.

    I'm in agreement that if you send a card, it's better to write even a quick “Happy Holidays” in hand, than to send a blank card. I try to make up for the lack of individualization by at least writing their names in calligraphy and depending on level of familiarity and age I draw a quick smiley face or add a sticker to the inside.

    November 24, 2011/Reply
  10. Virginia says:

    Thanks again to Belle for having me as a guest poster on Capitol Hill Style! I'm sorry for the delay in following up to the great comments, but just wanted to quickly address R's thoughts –

    I get that you are busy, I really do. And I'm sure that with your crazy lifestyle you'd rather be at the playground with your kid than taking an hour to write notes on a card. But I've got to stick to my guns here – I'm not asking you to write whole paragraphs to your friends and family, I'm just advocating for a personalized one or two lines on each card. That's it. And unless your list is 1,000-people long, I really think you can do it and I challenge you to give it a try this year and see how it goes. Maybe you'll find that you still don't think it's worth it, but I hope that's not the case – I hope you actually come to enjoy writing a personal note to everyone (and maybe your 3-year old might enjoy scribbling on the back of the card to family members, as well!) Oh, and just to clear up any misconceptions, I do actually love seeing the photos that people include in the cards. I just love flipping it over and seeing a handwritten note even more ­čÖé

    Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

    November 25, 2011/Reply
  11. Linds says:

    I'm a little late to the party on this one, but I cannot agree more with Virginia on the impersonal photo cards. I have always taken time out to send cards with personal notes to 25 or 30 dear friends and family members each year. It was always a holiday ritual of mine to take a Saturday or Sunday afternoon, go to Barnes and Noble, and hole myself up in a corner of the cafe and knock out all my cards in one sitting. This year, we have an 8-month-old son, so we will be ordering photo cards with a family picture. I know I will also be sending out more cards than usual this year and probably from now on. However, you can be sure that I will still be finding an afternoon when my husband will babysit and I will find time to write at least a short note on each of those cards. I get that everyone, especially parents, is busy, but I never cease to be frustrated that each year I receive more and more photo cards with no note—or worse, cards that have been sent directly from an online printer with an address label. Sigh.

    November 28, 2011/Reply
  12. ecd says:

    I have a few quick etiquette questions…how would you suggest gathering addresses? Is it ok to simply ask folks?
    Also – I'm really bad at keeping in touch with folks…is it ok to randomly send a card to folks I haven't spoken to in years?

    (thank you for the post!)

    November 29, 2011/Reply
  13. Virginia says:

    Hi ecd – yep, it's okay to just ask folks for their address. My preferred method is to send people a quick note with a “I've misplaced my address book (or if you have never had their address, “I'm updating my address book”) and would love to send you a holiday card – would you please send me your address? Ours is still 1234 Santa Lane, Washington, DC 20005″ People are happy to send you a quick note back. You can also ask your parents/relatives for addresses if some of your older family doesn't use e-mail. The key is just to put it all in one location – an excel spreadsheet, google doc, whatever – so you don't face this problem year after year!

    Also, I've filled in holes over the years of addresses I've misplaced when the holiday cards start rolling in – make sure to not throw envelopes away until you double-check that you have that person's correct address!

    And to address your final question – YES! It's a great idea to send someone that you haven't been in touch with a holiday card. Don't worry that someone might think it's weird since you haven't been in touch; look at it as an easy opportunity to reconnect. Just include a quick note that you are sorry that you haven't been in touch as much as you would like, a quick update on what you've been up to, and include your e-mail or phone number so that they have your updated contact information. Hopefully, you'll receive a note back from them with an update; but even if you don't, you've earned the warm and fuzzy feeling you get from sending someone some holiday cheer and taking the time to reach out.

    November 29, 2011/Reply