One hardly knows whether to thank or blame Sir Henry Cole for inventing the Christmas card. Just 1000 copies of the card, designed by John Calcott Horsley, were printed in London in 1843. Since then, the Christmas card and its countless variations – season’s greetings covering everything from Hanukkah to Hogmanay – have reached an annual average of 1.3 billion in the UK alone.
Notwithstanding the proliferation of emails, texts, tweets and Instagrams, there is a still a place for the traditional Christmas card. But there are social situations and challenges today that our great-grandparents never had to deal with. Let’s look at some of these and review some of the old standards.
There is nothing more disappointing than to open a beautiful Christmas card and find only a signature appended to the printed greeting. If your family is of the kind that sends out more than 500 cards, these will no doubt have been specially printed for you – perhaps with a photograph of an important family event – along with the greeting and signatures printed inside.
In this case, your PA has probably collated the cards and stuffed and addressed the envelopes. But for the rest of us who send an average of 19 cards, taking the time to pen a few words of greeting or important news will be greatly appreciated. At the top of the greetings page – technically, page 3 of the card – write the names of the recipients, “Dear Mary and Robert”, if addressing it to a couple (wife’s name first), “Dear Robert, Mary, Melissa and Grant” if addressing it to the whole family (husband’s name first). Don’t use “and family”, which is the equivalent of saying “etc”. Signatures should not confuse or offend. You expect your close friends to recognize your Christian names or signature but, if there is any doubt, use your surname as well (perhaps in brackets to make it less formal and obviously just for clarity).
A word of caution on enclosures: use sparingly. A photograph of the children will be treasured by close friends or family members who have shown a life-long interest in your children, but such personal photographs are not appropriate for general distribution to everyone on your list. Comprehensive letters recounting your annual travels and the children’s school grades are never appropriate. The purpose of the Christmas card is to send greetings and best wishes for the season to your friends. Focus on the recipients. Christmas cards are an excellent opportunity, however, to send out change of address notices if you have moved.
Don’t even think of printing off a set of mailing labels. Envelopes are addressed by hand, in ink.
Traditionally, envelopes of cards to married couples are addressed to the husband and wife: for example, Mr and Mrs Robert Brown. If appropriate, other social titles according to the peerage in the UK should be used. Note that in North America, it is standard to use full stops (periods) after the abbreviations: Mr., Mrs., Dr., etc.
Many women, however, no longer take their husband’s names at marriage and many couples do not declare their marital status and give no clues when each introduces the other as their “partner”. When the names of couples don’t match, you can safely address the envelope to both names, on one line, joined by “and”, for example, Mr John Smith and Ms Mary Brown. This guideline applies equally to same-sex couples, addressing the envelope to Mr John Smith and Mr Robert Brown (or Ms Sandra Smith and Dr Melissa Brown). Often, there is a dilemma about whose name comes first for same-sex couples. Those with surnames closer to the beginning of the alphabet will argue for alphabetical order. Couples often have an established order based on what simply sounds better, and this order could be used. There is no rule here.
There was a time when professional titles were never used in social correspondence, but nowadays social and business lives are so intertwined that most distinctions have been lost.
Persons who live together but are not a couple (e.g. house-mates, siblings, friends) are each addressed on separate lines on the envelope and their names are not joined by “and”.
The face of the card (page 1) faces the back of the envelope, then, where possible, the folded edge goes in first, towards the lower edge of the envelope. This is possible more often than not but, occasionally, because of its size and shape, a card doesn’t fit folded edge first, so just ensure that the front of the card is facing the back of the envelope.
In the UK, traditionalists do not put a return address on social correspondence. They trust Royal Mail to deliver the envelope as addressed and consider it a breach of confidentiality for anyone other than the intended recipient to know who the sender is. North Americans have no such blind faith in their postal services nor such a finely tuned sense of decorum and always put a return address either in the upper left corner of the front of the envelope or on the flap. For Christmas cards, it makes it easier for the recipient to send you a card in return when the address is readily available.
Christmas cards are like small gifts so add the final touch by affixing a special Christmas issue stamp to the envelope, rather than the standard issue used the rest of year. It may be necessary to get to the post office early in November to make sure you get some; they have been known to run out. In no circumstances be tempted to run your cards through the postage meter at the office (franking). A stamp carefully affixed to the upper right corner of the envelope will complete the presentation.