The Christmas Card Is Dead. Or Is It?

Turns out millennials and Gen Z are actually not, in fact, killing festive greeting cards.
Footmen carry a giant Christmas card for Elizabeth II which was delivered in 2005 to Buckingham Palace in London
Footmen carry a giant Christmas card for Elizabeth II which was delivered in 2005 to Buckingham Palace in London. Photo: Fiona Hanson - PA Images/PA Images via Getty Images

Say the words “Christmas cards” and two things spring to my mind. The first: former British prime minister Tony Blair and his wife Cherie. I may have only been four when Blair came to power, but their festive slideshow of forced poses, weird grimaces and sartorial nods to the Boden catalogue is burned on my retinas. I’m especially haunted by their 2014 offering, which was variously described as "menacingly odd", "terrifying" and "creepy". The only Christmas card that has ever given me the same uncanny feeling of horror and thrill is the one William and Kate put out this week, where Prince Louis lost a finger to Photoshop


The second thing I think of is my mum. Every year she spends hours crafting homemade cards, hand-delivering a bunch around the neighbourhood. I’ve also heard of parents getting so upset if they didn’t receive a card that their kids continue the tradition just to keep the peace, despite finding it a waste of time, money and paper. But card sending under duress isn’t really the same thing as keeping a tradition alive, is it? All stories like this did was prove my deeply held assumption that snail mail is slithering its way out, and Christmas cards are only kept on life support by public figures and mums. Because people don’t write stuff anymore, right? All we know is WhatsApp, TikTok, charge our phone, be bisexual, eat hot chip and lie. Surely no one under 35 would do anything as “okay boomer” as sending Christmas cards?

“My mum was very big on sending out Christmas cards when I was younger,” 27-year-old Dani tells me. “She was also a stickler for making sure my sister and I always wrote ‘Thank You' cards when we got birthday and Christmas gifts, so I guess for me the habit of writing cards has stuck.” 

She makes an effort to send Christmas cards to her grandparents, and other close family members, but admits the amount is small. “This year I've sent about five cards,” she says. “Last year I think I sent two or three.” Dani also rarely gets Christmas cards back from friends. “I think the tradition is dying out, just based on the number of cards I don't receive from people my age.” 


Cost might be a factor, she guesses, “and also people are busy and writing cards that will end up in recycling is probably not a good use of their time.” Recycling might even be optimistic – the amount of card material used over Christmas in the UK could cover Big Ben 260,000 times

As 27-year-old Beth indicates, this isn’t great from an environmental standpoint. Like Dani, she sends a bunch of cards every year – “about 25 or so” – but also thinks the tradition is dying out: “It’s seen as a bit of a novelty, maybe even a bit wasteful when you could just send someone a text.”

Jasmine Denike, 30, also believes the tradition is dying – “for good reason, because everything has gotten very expensive and it's not the best thing for the environment”. But she also still sends a bunch every year. “It just makes me happy knowing that they'll receive a surprise in the post,” she says. “I don't often get mail that isn't a bill or an advertisement, so I appreciate bits of handwritten mail when they come through.”

All this begs the question: If so many young people who think the tradition is dying are actually keeping it alive themselves, is the Christmas card really on its last legs? Could it secretly be alive and kicking?


Recent research suggests this may well be the case. A new survey of 2,000 US adults split evenly by generation found two in three people prefer to receive physical cards as opposed to digital ones, including millennial respondents (62 percent) and Gen Z (59 percent). The preference for analogue seems to stand up this side of the pond, too. Card Factory has found a marked increase in 16-24 year olds buying cards since the pandemic, with numbers up 14 percent in the last 12 months alone. Perhaps, rather than pushing us further into our screens and away from each other, the lockdown era made us all a bit more sentimental and appreciative of small gestures and family traditions.

“Growing up, my parents had friends all over the world and every Christmas we would have so many beautiful cards hung up around the house, from what felt like so many people who said they were thinking of us,” Cat tells me. “To this day, cards to me are so thoughtful to me because someone has taken time to remember you during what can otherwise feel like a chaotic time of year… It is a small way of saying I'm thinking of you, particularly when Christmas is actually quite a hard time for a lot of people.” Thought of in this way, sending cards seems rooted in the quintessential spirit of the season – offering a bit of light during darkness.

“When you open the door on a wet, cold day, and there is a pile of Christmas cards waiting for you on the mat, it is the best Christmas feeling ever,” my mum tells me when I call her up on a very wet and cold day to ask her about her card list, currently running to 50 people. “For me, there's something so special about that little piece of sparkle going through the post system… It's such a deep connection to your own personal history with someone.” 


Warming up to her role as the voice of card mums everywhere, she says that a big part of sending cards is a direct attachment to seeing her parents do it. “There's something about being the child of parents who did this and you think, okay, I've got the mantle now and I'm going to take it on,” she says. “I'm not prepared to cut that link yet.” Maybe Christmas cards will become like vinyl for young people: a nostalgic link to a recent but distant past.

“My mum was a massive Christmas card-sender,” 26-year-old Ellora confirms. “She passed away when I was 15 and I took on the mantle.” Now she treasures writing cards at this time of year. “It’s a way for me to feel close to my mum at Christmas,” Ellora says. “When I sit down to write my little stack of cards, ticking names off my list, I feel close to her. I even use her dilapidated old address book, which is so precious and fragile it only comes out once a year.”

“There is something analogue and mindful,” she adds, “about giving yourself the time and space to do nothing but write out your well wishes for your loved ones, sipping a Baileys hot chocolate, with a Christmas film on in the background.”

Ultimately, the whole thing just sums up the festive period, which is all about mad traditions, and family, and doing stuff partly because you’ve always done it, but also because, well, it’s just quite nice. You can look at Christmas cards as wasteful, excessive and too much emotional labour – but you can also look at them as a way to show the people in your life you care. Although there are less romantic ways of looking at it, too. “My 95-year-old godmother sent a card this year,” my mum says, “That's also quite handy at Christmas, to know they're still alive.”