Social Media and the Death of Holiday Cards

Curator's Note

Recently, I saw a holiday greeting card in a drugstore that read “I could have just Tweeted or Posted instead.” The card was self-congratulatory, taking the time to actually inscribe a signature and attach a self-sticking stamp. But it also struck me as a gentle warning: “I took the time to send a card this year; no guarantees for next year.”

The holiday season brings with it the inevitable stories about the decline of Holiday Cards. This decline has apparently been upon us since at least 1978, and the decline has been blamed on (or for) the death of the post office, the death of handwriting, and the rise of email. More recently, the decline has been blamed on social media, specifically Facebook. There is no need for holiday cards, the thinking goes, because we greet one another all year. The traditional end-of-the-year family newsletter is redundant, because our constant humble-bragging Facebook updates have already delivered a steady stream of news, photos, and videos.

Are the laments justified? Not really. For one thing, traditional holiday greetings haven’t really gone away. According to the Archbishop of York, people still prefer traditional cards. More importantly, the things we think we are losing to social media are actually gains. Some holiday card address lists have actually grown, as Facebook allows people to reconnect with old friends. And while digital greetings seem ephemeral, most Facebook posts live on for years, providing a readily available catalog of memories — unlike print holiday cards, which last until roughly January 7, before they are thrown in the trash.

We are definitely in a state of liminality when it comes to holiday cards. Not only are social media greetings replacing traditional holiday cards, but holiday cards (like the one I saw in the drugstore, and those in the accompanying slideshow) are making reference to social media. They are both outside the “norm” of holiday greetings, while intertwined with them. We are at a threshold, saying goodbye to hard copy, and preparing to accept their digital replacements.

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