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Does Anyone Out There Still Handwrite Their Holiday Cards?

They say ‘I care’  beyond an impersonal e-card.

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animation of woman writing in holiday card
Ellis Brown
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My then-single mom won a trip to Europe aboard an ocean liner in the late 1940s. And while I've seen a photo of her from that trip, all glammed out with a handsome man — not my father —beside her, she swears she was only flirting. Her proof is in the handwritten cards and letters that she and my dad, the man she would marry, exchanged while she played heartbreaker with the other guys. It's 70 years later, and she still delights in rifling through the missives she and her future husband swapped.

As we rev up for the holiday season, I propose celebrating with memorable, personalized notes that recipients will know are meant just for them. Senders can include a question about a grandma about to turn 100, or congrats on new grandchildren. What about those who relish chronicling the year's highlights with a printed, two-page recap of what everyone in the family has been doing? They could maintain the tradition — and please shorten the recap to a page at most — with a handwritten, personalized embellishment for each recipient.

My parents modeled the pleasures of exchanging heartfelt letters, so perhaps I was destined to stash away many of the beautiful cards I've saved since childhood. But even if sending handwritten notes isn't part of your DNA, it's an art anyone can pick up or reclaim.

In fact, lots of people are still doing it. According to research by the Greeting Card Association, 9 out of 10 households purchase greeting cards each year. Americans buy 6.5 billion cards annually, in an industry that takes in more than $7 billion in retail sales.

And if you think older people are the only ones who love sending and receiving heartfelt notes, consider this: Since 2015, millennials (born between 1981 and 1996) have outspent boomers (born between 1946 and 1964) in their card purchases.

With e-cards, e-mails and texts at the forefront of our lives, stamped, paper holiday greeting cards declare, I took the time to recall all that I appreciate about you. I celebrate our relationship as the year wind's down. You are dear to me.

Who among us doesn't relish it when we spot, tucked between the bills and the junk mail, a colorful envelope with handwritten lettering? And how can we add to the goodwill that such cards generate, particularly as we approach the holiday season?

In her book The Art of the Handwritten Note, Margaret Shepherd confirms the powerful connections that such cards evoke when they come in the mail. As she writes: “It announces beyond a doubt that the reader really matters to you. Your handwriting ensures that your words will be read and thought about in a way that can't be mimicked by print, e-mail or voice. Handwritten notes are not going to die out, because people still love to receive them, and people value each note more because they receive fewer of them."

Speaking of handwriting, sending cards and letters is the perfect way to brush up on your underutilized cursive. Or, if cursive was never your thing, then block letters will do just fine. What’s important is that it's your handwriting, which is one of the most personal ways you have of addressing the individuals you care about the most.

As you prepare for the holidays, you can select more than one set of boxed cards, to appeal to different people in your life. Perhaps a joke card for the folks with whom you love to laugh, a Happy New Year card for nonreligious pals, an animal-focused card for friends with beloved dogs or, if you're part of a spiritual community, a faith-based card for people who share your beliefs. Each year, far in advance of the holidays, I make a list of the loved ones I want to reach out to. Doing so allows time to write just a few during each session. I savor the way each person inspires me based on our unique relationship.

I want to put in a plug for friends or family members with a birthday that falls around a major holiday. If you want to do something special for them, send two cards, one for the holiday and one for their birthday. Often the birthday gets mentioned on a holiday card as an afterthought or is missed altogether, so your extra thoughtfulness will be much appreciated.

Like my mom, I often review cards from years back and feel the presence of the sender, those who are living and those who have passed. And, as my husband has come to understand, I love greeting cards so much that I display them on our dining table for weeks after holidays have ended. In doing so, it's as if we have wonderful company joining us at every meal.

But don't only take my word for it. I'll let a legendary author share her view. As Jane Austen wrote: “Let us never underestimate the power of a well-written letter.” Finally, for those of you who were already sold on the graceful potency of handwritten notes, you might enjoy perusing the website of The Handwritten Letter Appreciation Society.

Hopefully, now you're all set to gather your lovely cards and favorite pens, and to start addressing envelopes with the names on your holiday list — picturing the delight you'll bring to the lucky friends and family members who hear from you.

Who else still sends out holiday cards each year? Let us know in the comments below.

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