Given our increasingly hectic schedules, enviro-concerns and the fact that everyone already keeps in touch on Facebook and Twitter, the good old-fashioned holiday greeting card is fast becoming an ancient art form. This doesn't mean it's not worth sending, just that the rules are changing.
Make a list (and feel free to check it twice)
Before the holiday madness takes hold, make a date with yourself to compile a list of card recipients. Mailing day should be no later than Dec. 10, so get started. Feel free to include anyone you want, but it's also okay to be selective. "I tend to send holiday cards to people who I don't see often, but want to keep in touch with," says Kim Izzo, a Toronto etiquette expert and co-author of The Fabulous Girl's Guide to Decorum. Ms. Izzo says both environmental and time concerns keep her from sending cards to friends who she'll see on the holiday party circuit. You may use a different selection process, but a holiday greeting is a nice way to say "I appreciate you." Then assemble all the addresses before you start sending. And make sure to write them all down in the same place for next year.
When in doubt, be generic
A lot of people feel as if political correctness has quashed seasonal fun for those who celebrate a particular holiday. But it is perfectly okay to wish a Santa-celebrating friend a "Merry Christmas." What you want to avoid is wishing the same to your observant Jewish co-worker. It's disrespectful and shows that you don't care enough to consider his or her traditions and beliefs. "When in doubt you can never go wrong with 'Happy Holidays,'" Ms. Izzo. says.
Bonus points for a personal message
It's amazing that some people will go to the trouble of collecting cards, addresses, even creating personalized postage, and then sign their names as if they were signing a credit card slip. "The whole point is that the gesture is personal," says Ms. Izzo, who says cards should include the recipient's name (written by hand), as well as a quick sentence or two. "Wishing you and yours all the best," won't cut it. Instead try a personal joke ("We've come a long way since guzzling Baby Duck in the dorm room"), a distinguishing detail ("Hope you're keeping warm out in Moose Jaw"), or a recent life-changing event. Just be sure that said event is a positive one.
Show off your adorable family…to a point
Family photo-style holiday cards are a nice annual artifact for your own scrap book. They are also a fun and totally appropriate way to show how your kids are growing, especially for older relatives who don't get the chance to see you as often as they'd like, and who don't use social networking sites. But don't send them to co-workers, who are less interested in seeing that Little Emma has lost two teeth. Keep the newsletter-style updates for relatives and close friends only, and avoid using them as a platform for bragging – the Christmas season is no time for a keeping up with the Joneses-type attitude.
To "e" or not to "e"
Your level of green commitment, age, number of recipients, and desired level of intimacy are just some of the factors to consider when thinking of sending e-cards. In 20 years, the next generation will likely marvel at the entire paper mail phenomenon, but for now, Ms. Izzo admits that an e-card is still "the second tier of holiday cards," especially for anyone raised in the Emily Post era. It may be okay to e-card your Internet-savvy pals and save the paper for the over-50s and etiquette sticklers. In the professional realm, e-cards are certainly acceptable – you don't need to get too personal with your accountant.
And don't do this: Write something you don't want the world to see. Cards are often put out on display, so this is not the place for trashing a mutual friend's botched facelift or new beau.
Special to The Globe and Mail