When You Send Out Christmas Cards and Don't Get Any Back

By Stephanie Earp

The writer of this story is determined her mailbox will not be snow-covered and empty this year, but will be replenished daily with holiday greetings from people who received cards from her the year before. It's only fair.

Every year at holiday time, my parents' house looks like the inside of a card shop. They get hundreds of holiday greetings from friends all over the world, and I admit it makes me jealous. Not only does it look festive, it's instantly clear to any visitor that my parents are popular and sophisticated, and well thought of by people all around the globe. How could I get the same look at my place, I wondered.

Turns out it's not easy. As with so many things at this time of year, it's not just the receiving, but the giving that counts. My parents get hundreds of cards because they send out hundreds of cards. I assumed this was something like their version of Facebook, and that they must post cards to every acquaintance they'd ever made to generate this amount of mail, but the crazy thing is, they actually know and care for every person on their list.

And so five years ago, I started my own list, hoping one day to build it into the kind of empire they've created. In my first year, a single box of eight cards sufficed. Although my list has soared to over 35 recipients, I'm wondering if I need to revise and hone my technique a bit.

As much as I started this project with ulterior motives, the truth is I love sending out cards each November. I love that I'm one of the few people in my circle of friends who does it, and even though some people have been on my list since year one, they always seem so surprised and touched when they get a card from me. I love choosing my cards each year, searching for a visual that will stand out on a crowded mantel.

The only bummer is my low return rate. As some of my friends have started to marry and have kids, they've gotten on the holiday card train, and I can count on a card from them. But others - feckless youngsters who move apartments twice a year and work fly-by-night restaurant jobs - are hopeless. Some time in February I see them at a party and get a bemused thank-you. Rather than encouraging them to join the fun, my attentions seem to confuse.

The most mysterious of all though, are my year-one regulars, Mr and Mrs Kolodny, the parents of my very best friend. Every year I send a card, and every year I get nothing in return. Occasionally, Kolodny the Younger will mention in passing that her parents enjoyed the card, but they have never once called or written to say so themselves. Was it time to wipe these bad investments off my card list, or was I missing the point?

I called The Etiquette Ladies of Canada and got their advice on whether it was time to cut the Kolodnys loose.

"Is this about you, or about them?" Louise Fox, the director, asked me. She did not seem impressed.

"Um, them, I guess," I hazarded.

"You have no idea why they may not have responded. They may have decided to keep card giving just for family, or it may be a financial issue. But surely they appreciate your card. Who wouldn't?"

"So you don't think I might be annoying them?" I ventured.
"Of course not," she scoffed.

Clearly, I needed to get the basics from Louise on holiday card etiquette. And my first mistake it seems, I may have started too young.

"Most people start sending holiday cards when they have kids," she says. "They may send updates or pictures. They might get the kids involved when they're old enough. It becomes a family project."

Getting cards out at the right time is crucial, too. "You don't want to send them too early, you don't want them arriving in October," she says. "And Canada Post can tell you when the last day is to send and have the card arrive before the holidays. But really, even if it arrives in the New Year, that's fine too." Fine that is, if you're willing to wait a year for a response.

Louise also mentions trends away from traditional holiday cards. After all, Christmas is practically a dirty word in some secular circles. Apparently, some people have switched to Thanksgiving cards and New Year's cards. While both of these holidays have religious or cultural tones to them, they're aren't quite so fraught. I like the Thanksgiving idea, after all it would give people plenty of time to make note of my address and add me to their list. But it's too late for this year anyway.

My other dilemma is getting addresses from my friends, the ones who I exclusively keep in contact with through email. What's the etiquette on this? Should I go all Veronica Mars on them, or just ask?

"Well you can sneak around and surprise them, but who has the time? If you know where they work, you can send it to their place of business. You can ask by e-mail if you like and if they wonder why you want it, just say you'd like to send them a card."

At this point, I begin to wonder if I should send Louise a card this year. After all, she is now a business contact. I could easily find her business address. And considering her profession, I'm bound to get one in return. It really was worth calling her for advice.

As for you, dear Reader, I know you don't have time to sneak around trying to find my address, so I will save you the trouble. You can send me a greeting care of :

AOL Canada
55 St. Clair Avenue West
Toronto, Ontario
M4V 2Y7

And no e-cards, please. Louise says they'll do in a pinch, but you can hardly string a row of e-cards across your hallway, now can you?

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