Forget the eCard. Say no to Santa emojis. A simple greetings card is still the best means of sending a message to a loved one – and there’s time to get yours in under the wire
Words Mary-Jane Wiltsher
This is your final call. Royal Mail advise that tomorrow, 20th December, is the deadline for Christmas post, and you’ll need to stamp your cards First Class. Happy to fork out on express delivery? You have until Friday 21st.
In my experience, there are three schools of thought when it comes to the festive greetings card. First, there are the Die Hards (Die Cards?) à la Pam Shipman in Gavin & Stacey, who post their Yule Tide mail weeks in advance so that the recipients have plenty of time to enjoy the contents. These are invariably the same people who send family newsletters about Benjamin’s geography degree at Hull Uni and Aunty Kay’s bunion op. The abominable snowman himself couldn’t stop these diligent scribes from getting their meticulously addressed goods in the post box.
Then there are the Could-Try-Carders (guys, it’s cracker joke season), who like the idea of sending cards, but invariably negate to write them until the third week of December, and have to spend a small fortune on postage to get them in under the wire. These people might be nostalgic analogue types (paper! Stamps! Quaint!) or pioneers of the minimalist Christmas message (Dear Ted and Jane, Merry Christmas, from Bob and Sue). I’m a confirmed Could-Try-Carder and send a streamlined 20 cards to my nearest and dearest. This happens after a lot of frantic WhatsApping to confirm postcodes because, in true millennial form, I don’t own anything as practical as an address book.
Finally, there are the Card-Done-Bys. The non-believers. For these people, handwriting is a tiresome task to be disregarded in the manner of New Girl’s Schmidt – “you’re listening to the radio and writing with a pen, what decade are we in?” They will instead gift you with a turkey-filter Snapchat or a VoiceNote quote-along to Elf. After all, why write a paragraph when you can send a Santa emoji?
I came across a lot of non-believers while WhatsApping friends for their postcodes last week. Aged 25-30, their responses ranged from sweetly stunned to outright perplexed: ‘Oh amazing! I was just saying how I wish people still sent Christmas cards’, or ‘Babe, don’t worry, I’m seeing you at the pub later?’
They aren’t alone. In 2017, the total number of Christmas cards sold – including individual and multi-pack – dropped by 10 million. That’s part of the bigger and well-documented pattern of declining postal volumes. For 2018, Royal Mail reported that addressed letter volumes fell by 7% in the first half of the financial year, compared with an expected decline of 4% to 6%.
But those figures only paint part of the picture. The 10 million drop, put into context, is actually just 0.01 per cent, and in a 2017 Royal Mail survey, 80% of respondents said they would rather receive a printed Christmas card over an e-card. According to the Gift Card Association, Brits are especially partial to a card, buying more per person than any other nation at an average of 33 each a year. Indeed, the GCA report that the UK card industry is acknowledged to be ten years ahead of the rest of the world in terms of design, and that no other country has such a tradition of card sending or card display in the home.
We’re also spending more on cards despite buying less of them, which has helped them survive the digital age. GCA figures show that UK consumers spent £184 million on 105 million individual cards in 2018, £15 million more than in 2015.
It seems that in an era of apps and Bitmoji avatars, a simple card is still viewed as the best means of sending a personal message to a loved one – a sign that the novelty of real, physical post has intensified in a digital landscape.
And that’s cheering for all sorts of reasons. One is the money that Christmas cards raise for good causes – the GCA estimates that £50m is raised through the sales of charity Christmas cards each year.
Another is the power of a small gesture. However brief – or lengthy – the message within, a Christmas card speaks of thought given and time spent. It’s a five-minute diversion into a charity shop on your lunch break. It’s a quiet half hour at your kitchen table, plucking and peeling jewel-coloured stamps. It’s the smell of fresh paper. It’s navigating a biro instead of autocorrect. It’s time spent away from your phone screen.
While you may be cutting it fine for international post, there’s still time to snap up a multipack, wheedle out your least blotchy pen and get yourself to a post box.
Happy scribbling – a paperless Christmas isn’t on the cards any time soon.