The decline of Christmas cards

Cards

Agnostic reports:

Using Lexis-Nexis, I found an estimate of 26 Christmas cards for 1990, so that the number of all holiday greeting cards would have been a bit above — probably around the 1987 level of 29 cards across all holidays. The first big drop is visible by 1994, when the number of cards received per household was about 25% lower than in 1987. There was another drop-off starting in 2003, and during the most recent years of 2007 and 2008, the number is down about 40% from the late '80s / early '90s. This does not merely reflect the fact that there are more households now than then, which would tend to lower the ratio even if the total number of cards stayed the same. In 1987, 2.856 billion holiday greeting cards were received vs. 2.117 billion in 2007 — a decrease in sheer volume of 736 million cards.

And what is the upshot?:

1) The various signals of Christmas have been steadily fading since roughly the mid-1990s, at least a decade before the "War on Christmas" debate erupted. Rather than special interests knocking off Christmas-lovers, the general public voluntarily dropped out. None of the changes in the signals is clearly related to the internet, macroeconomic indicators, etc. The only strong association I see is the larger cultural shift away from sincerity and sentimentality toward affectation and irony.

2) They have not been replaced with new signals. Rather, we're pulling out investment from the holiday altogether and shifting it into other holidays like New Year's Eve and Halloween (which Lexis-Nexis suggests was taken over by adults also in the mid-1990s). Anything that will afford us greater opportunities to make the duckface for the cameras.

Contrary to the author's suggestion, I am inclined to see the internet at work here, even if it doesn't explain the entire series.  If you stay in touch by Facebook, what's the point of the yearly reminder?  This is another example of how the internet can lower measured gdp yet raise welfare.

If you scroll down on the blog, you'll find other indicators of the decline of interest in Christmas.

Comments

I'd hazard that the rise of communication in general is responsible for the trend. Christmas cards are used to keep in contact with out of touch acquaintances; not a problem with cell phones and unlimited long distance.

Maybe marginal (but maybe not?), we used to know the addresses of all our contacts, we don't anymore. We know their cell phone number and their email instead. At the time of writing and sending a greetings card, this makes a difference. The causes? Maybe people move more often from one place to another, and don't bother about telling their new address because they can be contacted by other means. Or, maybe, people are more afraid of giving their address away. Also, people meet less often to each other's place, and when they do, they never spontaneously drop in anymore, they call before. So ultimately, they can't remember what their friend's address is...

My daughter (mid 20s) says that no-one in her circle sends cards, since they are permanently in touch by text, phone, messenger and e-mail.

ups, my fault. The best search is this:

http://www.google.com/insights/search/#content=1&cat=18&q=%22christmas+cards%22&cmpt=q

A smooth decline, but I donĀ“t know if this is a trend...If we search for "Christmas", probably we will find mixed results.

"Its in the cards."

I haven't noticed any increased emphasis on New Year's, but Halloween has certainly turned into an adult holiday. It may have started as a gay thing, but has now turned into a predominantly young female thing, sometimes called "Slut-o-ween," an occasion for females 15 to 30 to put on sexually provocative outfits.

The mid-90s seems about right for this change. Interestingly, the rise of Slut-o-ween coincides with a dramatic desexualization of the office environment from the late 70s when I started working in offices.

The depression is young, friends.

I can remember my parents sending out literally hundreds of Christmas cards each year. In the era before computers, my father had a special card catalog of addresses that he broke out every year simply for managing the card-distribution project. These days, my wife and I send out maybe six or seven cards, and this years we only received a couple. Interestingly, the trend toward self-absorbed annual holiday letters appears to be (gratefully) waning in concert with the decline of card exchanging (of course, that self-absorption is being transferred to blogs and Facebook pages...).

The other commenters are correct here in blaming political correctness, the rise in ubiquitous connectivity (Internet/cell phone use), and competition from other holidays in the decline of this and other Christmas traditions. In regard to other holidays, some of this is marketing, but much of it is a desire of Boomers and Gen-Xers to glorify their childhoods. When I was a kid, for instance, Halloween was a minor affair at best, with trick-or-treating being something you grew out of by age 10 (I couldn't imagine my folks dressing up for a Halloween party!). Today, people in my neighborhood put up more lights at Halloween than they do at Christmas.

To these causes for Scrooge-ism I'd also add basic economics (celebrating costs money; just ask any worker whose company has stopped hosting holiday parties), a growing sense of cultural cynicism (it's no accident that "snark" is one of our hottest buzzwords) and an increasing disdain of all things religious (a deserved backlash, perhaps, against hypocrisy, and a sense that religion can do more harm than good [see Taliban, priest sex abuse]).

Overall, this may be a symptom of of the Boomer and post-Boomer generations ascending to adulthood and hence cultural leadership. We glorify the things that are important to us and tend to discard the rest. As for the older generations, the things they cherished are not always passed on. I can remember my Greatest Generation elders honoring Pearl Harbor Day and V-J Day. How often are those dates noted today?

One more thing: Anyone feeling blue about the holidays should read the following collection of holiday horror stories submitted to Gawker.com. Somewhat depressing, but also mesmerizing...

http://gawker.com/5433208/stuff-our-stockings-with-christmas-horror-stories

Thanks for the link.

I agree that communication technology may play some role in this, but again there were no widespread cell phones in 1993 -- not enough to cause that much of a drop in getting Christmas cards. E-cards did not exist back then either, and the internet was just becoming popular. Many commenters are projecting the ubiquity of cell phones, social network sites, etc., back into the early-mid 1990s, when they weren't there.

And again, the goal is to keep our eye on the big picture. There may be an internet angle to the decline in Christmas cards, but that explanation can't capture the suite of declining Christmas trends that I catalogued.

Re: Halloween, the first article I found from Lexis-Nexis was from 1988. It said the holiday was becoming "yuppified." But the deluge of articles about adults taking it over don't start until the mid-'90s. A key detail there is that adults started sending *more* holiday cards for Halloween, vs. no Halloween cards before. This also makes me skeptical of cell phone / internet accounts of fewer Christmas cards.

What about the customized Christmas cards people create through Snapfish or at Kiosks in Wal-Mart and Target. I get alot of cards from friends that come in that medium.

I sent out over 250 Christmas Cards to clients and prospects (ah Holiday Cards) and over 50 to friends and family. I will never send out eCards. There is nothing like getting a Greeting Card in the mail - I am part of a crusade to make sure people are feel appreciated via the old fashion greeting card. It's funny to have received countless emails thanking me for the Christmas cards I send out. People will forget an eCard as soon as they hit the delete button, but a greeting card will make an impression that lasts and last - so even keep the cards forever.

I no longer receive paper corporate Christmas cards from business contacts; those have all gone electronic. I expect that a large portion of the drop can be explained this way.

Such interesting statistics and comments from everyone. Sheer laziness and lack of planning must play a big part. I have personally recognised a turn around from a couple of people that I do business with....they actually sent me a good old fashioned Christmas card with a handwritten personal message, I almost fell off my chair. It seems some businesses are thinking outside the square and investing in alternative ways to impress their clients. These personally written messages were well received and placed on my shelf, whereas the commercial, bulk printed, corporate cards went straight in the bin along with the e-cards and e-mails that just get deleted.

Halloween is pretty much non existent where I live (Australia).

Any reason to think that price would have something to do with the decline. My wife and I spend $100 or more to send out 70 Christmas Cards. Those are the Wal-Mart template cards you just plug a picture into.

THE CYCLE BEGINS AGAIN...

Oh. My. God. Every year right around Thanksgiving I begin a predictable cycle of "hating to write Chistmas cards." It's like clockwork, this cycle. Then I try to trim down the list. Those names I try to eliminate will, of course, be first ones I receive back from others, so that never works. Then I match names with cards and make small piles of five each, with matching envelopes. I hand-sign them in groups of five. I used to crank them out in bunches of twenty-five over a four-day period. But at sixty-seven years of age, it's five-at-a-time now. I write a message and have been including a short Christmas letter that is about everyone enjoying Christmastime instead of about our family's exploits. One year, I will either stop sending cards altogether (doubtful) or I will manage to trim the list down to about twenty-five people as my handwriting energy wanes with time (a real possibility there). My main problem is, every year we faithfully receive ninety-six cards back from everyone. Everyone is present and accounted for! It is like a huge machine that has been switched into motion! Where will it end? The only thing I have found which conquers this relentless cycle is the right attitude. When I finally find my gratitude each year, I pick up my little red felt marker and tackle all the Christmas cards willingly. But until then, it is a gigantic task I wish I could make disappear as if by magic. Perhaps some of you know how I feel about this whole thing. Is that a kind of love/hate relationship with "doing" Christmas cards (lol)? By the way, Merry Christmas to all of you and Thank You so much for reading my endless post! Submitted by: Chris Grasse in South Portland, Maine, U.S.A.

Christmas is the best part of the year.But I have a big dillema for the next Christmas because I really don't know what to choose between carnival cruises or staying home and having everybody coming to my house and celebrating Christmas as we always did.

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