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We live in a digital age, so are paper Christmas cards still viable?

OK . . . OK … OK! I know that we haven’t even seen the Coco-Cola trucks parading yet but Christmas is definitely coming, as evidenced by the start of what has become one of THE most contentious and divisive issues of the year here in the UK – Is the John Lewis advert any good?

I’m making no comment yet (I haven’t even seen it but the toy does NOT look anything like the pics of the advert! – I’m just saying!)

Now I love a good advert as much as the next but I’ve always found it very annoying that Christmas seems to start earlier and earlier, although this year, I am delighted to say I’ve heard little noise about Christmas until now, the middle of November.  

Only 15% of cards are bought by men

Russell Jones Content and Communications Manager

But now that we are staring down the barrel of December, I am starting to look forward to the festive season. I don’t know about you and your situation, but some of my family are really ‘super organised’ and have a) already bought the majority of their presents; and b) lined up all their Christmas cards ready for posting on the 1st of December.

Does anyone still send cards in these digital days? And does that betray me as being part of the 85% of men who apparently have little or nothing to do with buying Christmas cards?

That got me thinking about how much I value getting a card? And I decided that actually, I like it.

I also decided that in order to carry on ensuring I get some, I should probably look more at who we send a card to, and who we don’t.

But just how environmentally-friendly is this custom? And do they still have a place in the digital age we all live in now?

Where does all this come from?

The rise of Christmas Cards is generally attributed to the Victorian’s and their amazing postal service however, the first Christmas in Britain is thought to have been celebrated in York in 521AD.

The Chinese have also sent greetings cards for hundreds of years, to wish good luck for the coming year. 

In 15th Century Germany, cards were also sent to celebrate the new year.

So this whole ‘season’s greeting’ issue is nothing new.

Victorian mass market

In 1843 a civil servant called Sir Henry Cole, who had helped set up the new Public Record Office which became the Post Office, found a way to encourage the public to use the service with the creation of the Christmas card.

So in essence, the whole thing can be attributed to a marketing ploy to get people to use the Post Office!

Improvements in printing over the coming years helped increase the popularity and choice of cards and in 1870, as the price to post a card dropped to half a penny, even more people were able to send cards.

The other factor that helped this become so popular is that letter writing was quite a long standing custom in England and it was considered the height of impoliteness not to answer mail.

Cole’s ingenious idea solved this and helped encourage use of the Post Office with the creation of Christmas cards that satisfied social etiquette and were much quicker to write than letters. His first card was a convenient way for him to reply to all of his correspondence without having to draft long, personalised responses to each.

Happy Rootin Tootin Sharp Shootin

Apparently one of the first recorded personalised Christmas cards was sent from Glasgow to the USA from Annie Oakley, the sharpshooting star of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show.  In 1891, she sent family and friends a photo of her wearing tartan!

And in 1915, three brothers (Joyce, Rollie and William Hall) published the first holiday card and later changed their company’s name from The Hall Brothers company to Hallmark Cards who remain one of the largest card suppliers on the market.

Being sensible

Our planet is under strain as never before and we all have to do what we can to mitigate humanity’s impact on the environment, so is the creation, printing and sending of paper-based greeting cards really viable these days?

Having worked for several years, I’ve watched the transition to online e-Cards for businesses and, whilst this is perfectly understandable and there is a place for this, for home, I’d still rather get a physical card for my mantelpiece.

I think the answer is that we all need to be responsible and sensible as Christmas cards are a perfect way to share happiness and goodwill with people you may not get to see as often as you’d like.

Personally, we always try to buy charity cards as a way of supporting these worthy causes.

If you are concerned about resources, then you can always make sure you buy recycled cards.  Even better, make your own, especially if you have children as this is a fantastic way to help involve them in the build-up to Christmas and explain the ideas behind family, friends and the importance of a connected world.

You can also buy plantable cards which have seeds embedded in the paper and can then be used to grow herbs, flowers, etc. 

The one thing you absolutely HAVE TO DO though, wherever you get your cards from, is make sure you take them to a recycling bank once the holiday season is over.  Here at Mitsubishi Electric, we have special bins especially for this purpose so that we can make it as easy as possible for staff to do their bit.

So in summary, I think Christmas cards are a positive thing and can help share some of the ‘warmth’ of the season. For many people living on their own, they can also be one of the few contacts they actually have with the outside world.

So, sending a few Christmas cards is not going to seriously harm the environment but it will help spread a bit of Joy at what is usually a cold, dark and depressing time of year for many.

Regardless of whether you do decide to send cards or not, do keep in touch with those near and far though won’t you?

Christmas card facts

Some interesting facts about Christmas cards

  • Charities

    In the UK an estimated £50m is raised for charities through the sale of Christmas Cards

  • Record breaker

    62,824 is the most cards sent by one person (Werner Erhard of San Francisco in 1975)

  • Now there's a surprise!

    Only 15% of cards are bought by men

  • How many do you send?

    The average UK household sends out about 50 cards each Christmas and most are written and mailed by women

  • Billions

    Every year in the UK alone, an estimated 1.8 billion Christmas cards are sent and received

Russell Jones is Content and Communications Manager for Mitsubishi Electric, Living Environment Systems in the UK.