The SNEWS® View: Christmas cards and fruitcake -- time for a change

Like the company party, holiday gift exchanges and that ever endearing fruitcake, the Christmas card has become ubiquitous with the season of giving. For many, both companies and individuals, it is the one time of the year when a personal message conveying thank you and best wishes is conveyed.

Like the company party, holiday gift exchanges and that ever endearing fruitcake, the Christmas card has become ubiquitous with the season of giving. For many, both companies and individuals, it is the one time of the year when a personal message conveying thank you and best wishes is conveyed.

They can be cute, are sometimes funny and, frequently, are broadly inspirational (with the goal of political correctness these days). At SNEWS®, we receive mounds of cards every Christmas season. They pile up around the office, displayed on every available space until the New Year. And, each year, after the New Year arrives, we recycle mounds of cards -- making that extra effort to tear off fronts and send the pictures to a children's home where they are used for art projects. While appreciative of all the good wishes and recognition from colleagues, friends and customers, we are increasingly troubled with the waste. Hallmark has stated that Christmas is the largest card-giving time of the year -- eclipsing Mother's Day, Valentine's Day, Father's Day and any other special day by a large margin. That's a lot of paper waste in our view, especially since you can't recycle the ones that are silver and gold embossed or lined. How many ripped-down trees do all these cards add up to? And that's not to mention the unknown costs and energy wasted if you add in transportation, shipping and manufacturing effects. We're not sure if buying carbon offsets will really make it all good.

At SNEWS®, we stopped sending holiday cards of any kind several years ago. Prior to that, we opted only for specially designed electronic greeting cards, which we felt conveyed a personal touch and our own style, although one could argue how blasting a link to a card is personal. We still send a personally penned holiday greeting in our last SNEWS® Digest of the year.

All of that brings us to this: At the risk of sounding Scrooge-like, we'd like all of our many friends, colleagues and customers to stop sending paper cards as well -- not just to us, though that would be a start, but to anyone on the holiday card list. Email is great for that. One can enjoy the greetings and even pass them on. At the very least, think about why you are sending a card and then only send a card if you have the time to pen a handwritten and personal message -- such as “Thanks for all the hard work this year,” or “It was great spending time with you at the X event.” We have nothing against special messages that are personally conveyed to express sincere gratitude or appreciation any time of the year, and Christmas is no exception.

The majority of cards we received this year -- and also in past years -- were little more than a pre-printed wish for a happy holiday stuffed into an envelope that had a computer-generated address label slapped on it. One organization, and one that has clear designs on being an industry leader in establishing standards for sustainable practices and environmental ethic, sent numerous Christmas cards to our offices -- one for each of our staff. Each card was identical, printed on glossy card stock, with a generic printed message inside and not one personal signature or note to be found. We could only bemoan the waste of resources. That company should know better.

For those who took the time to write a personal note, we thank you. We read each one and appreciate the time and thought behind the card and the greetings, propping them up on a counter to enjoy. One company sent us Christmas cards with a gift card inside for a coffee chain, and personally signed each card as well -- and that too was appreciated. There was no extra packaging to crumple up and toss, no extra money spent on big boxes or shipping, and the gift could be truly used.

Despite our enjoyment of those greetings, the SNEWS® team will continue its practice of not sending Christmas cards at all -- although we won't preclude the possibility of truly practical gifts, as we have done a couple of times in the past. We wouldn't mind a bit if we did not receive one card during the 2008 Christmas season either. We'd rather see the resources and environment preserved. A personal email would be grand, small and functional gifts are OK too, or even just a handshake and a hug the next time we see you are valued.

And although the holidays are the period usually chosen to send greetings, why not expand your communication horizons? We at SNEWS® are encouraging thank-you notes and personal greetings throughout the year -- inspired by the act of a retailer in 2007 who began writing personal thank-you notes each morning of every day to show appreciation to his customers. It's that random and unexpected card that is most memorable and appreciated. Yes, there are still resources involved, but if one chooses recycled paper using soy ink and basic printing, the impact will be less while the enjoyment will be more.

Unexpected notes to friends and business partners throughout the year are far better than a mandatory card stuffed into an envelope with little thought once a year. We suspect you too gravitate toward hand-addressed letters in the mail stack since those are the ones less likely to be populated with bills, sales come-ons, political statements and impersonal letters. True, good Karma from a handwritten note isn't going to earn any carbon offset benefits, but taking the time to express thanks when thanks are not expected does make a person smile and feel remarkably good, and isn't that better than an obligatory holiday greeting card any day? We'd like to think so. 


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