Cape Cod Teresa Martin: Paper Christmas cards are making a comeback

2021-12-23 08:03:39 By : Ms. Ella Jian

The early ones arrive the day after Thanksgiving. There it lies, right there in the snail mail post box! Yup, the holiday card, fashionably early, sent with TLC by your uber-organized friend/relative/co-worker/former high school classmate who always has projects done before the deadline.

Once upon a time, everyone sent cards. Paper cards. With envelopes and return addresses and actually sticky stamps. Remember that? You’d line up the cards on the table or the window sill. Maybe you’d tape them to a door. Of, if you were crafty yourself you’d have some clever string thing creating strands of holiday greetings.

We all had card lists, too. Handwritten and edited over the years, sometimes with handy-dandy memory notes like “baby born 1980” or “good riddance Matt 1981.” The card folder almost always had return labels, ripped from the envelope with a reminder to “update” or “add.” Some people sent hundreds of cards, while others took pride in a more focused list. And then there were the unspoken competitions.

Over several years, my creative friend circle seemed to engage in a sort of art-off, sending cards that doubled as hand-crafted works of art. Our own entries usually involved photos of a dog. One year —in the time before iPhones when photography required a planned process — we set up a black backdrop, draped it with mini-colored lights, tossed popcorn in the air, and captured a beautiful red husky leaping and snacking.

Other friend circles shared “year in summary” missives, carefully folded and always featuring highlights I knew I’d never achieve. Some used the yearly cards to deliver school picture day photo minis, with child name and year noted on the back. And another group always purchased boxes of cards from their favorite museum/nonprofit, sending something both unique and mission-supporting.

Ah, the ritual of it all!

I have never exactly gotten awards for submitting projects early, so eventually, I turned my holiday cards into New Year's cards, which avoided the “which holiday do you celebrate” conundrum and — more importantly — bought another week in the due date timeline. Then one year, as the world shifted away from paper, my lists got lost in yet another move and I fell out of the card cycle.

Of course, no one needs to send paper cards anymore. Companies such as Paperless Post ( let you easily select and send digital cards, including customized photo embellished ones. And if you want paper, the same interface lets you create and mail a physical object with a few mouse clicks. Greeting card company Blue Mountain ( began offering digital cards and click–to–send paper cards years ago, as did competitors American Greetings and Hallmark and a plethora of others. Over time, these companies rolled out variations, adjusting to changing tastes and technology.

Quirky creative touches abound. JibJab ( created its own little circle of buzz a generation ago when it introduced customized cards with an edge. You drop in a photo of your face — and faces of your family and friends if you want — and its app integrates the faces into a singing/dancing video.

As we crossed the millennium some 20 years ago, artist Jacquie Lawson created an e-Christmas card and, in what was probably her friend circle creative competition, sent it out. Based on feedback, within a year she and her programmer nephew set up a website and digital card company ( The company continued to grow, went under the wing of American Greetings, and today incorporates multiple artists, while its English village aesthetics continue to attract fans — each card telling a gentle animated story of carolers at the door or children decorating a wintery bird seed tree.

I confess that I always enjoy the Jacquie Lawson cards I receive — and always watch them more than once. But lately, I’ve been thinking about holiday cards more broadly and wondering how the digital stacks up to the physical … and if we might be seeing a revival of an old tradition.

Greeting cards date to the Victorian era, with a British civil servant named Henry Cole getting credit for generating the first Christmas cards in 1843. Things kept chugging merrily along … until digital lives changed up everything. But now, Millennial and Gen Z folks seem to be driving a resurgence of paper card sending. Data backs this up — searches and sales of greeting cards have risen over the past year. Industry pundits cite “screen burnout” and the pandemic as underlying causes, but I think our fondness for a virtual touch via paper never really went away.

So as the season arrives, welcome these little missives, be they paper or digital. And if they arrive in paper form, here’s a memory jogger: In Yules past, some people tossed the cards at season’s end … but others engaged in what today gets called upcycling: snipping them into gift tags for next season, trimming and folding them into literal garlands, and even doing a bit of origami to create little gift boxes for future use.

After all, as the saying goes, everything old becomes new again. And some things — like remembering our human circles — never go out of style.

Teresa Martin of Eastham lives, breathes and writes about the intersection of technology, business and humanity.