Holiday Hello! Communication – Delectable, Digestible, or Disgusting

12.31.14 holiday cardsIt’s the holiday time of year and no communication blog would be complete without touching on the annual tradition, for largely the Boomer set, of sending out holiday greetings to loved (and barely known) friends, family and acquaintances, near (why?) and far.

Here are the typical thoughts around sending holiday cards

I look forward to sending and receiving cards, which is the only communication I have with some people every year that have moved away that I like to keep in touch with.

– Holiday cards are part of the season, nice to get non-bill mail once a year, but I can take them or leave them.

– Please!  Spare me the expense and aggravation. I really can’t be bothered sending out cards. No one reads them anyway.  And those long bragging letters are just tooooo much to take.



Let’s talk about why exactly some of us feel the need to send out holiday greeting cards:

  1. You feel obligated when someone sends you a card to return the gesture – reciprocity, not being a cheapskate, tit for tat and all that
  2. You saw your parents sending them every year, so you do it – it’s just an annual holiday habit that you engage in every year without much thought, one of the “jobs” of the season that comes with the territory
  3. You really think people are interested in the minutia of how your last year went and actually enjoy creating a long and tedious blow-by-blow letter about your activities

Okay now let’s talk about the REAL reason for sending out holiday greeting cards.  Biologically speaking, all human beings have an internal struggle that is occurring pretty much all the time: the fight between being selfish and being social.

The selfish part says, “I need to stay competitive because it’s survival of the fittest, so I have to always look out for number one – what’s in this for me?”  While the social part says, “We all need each other to get by in this world; no man is an island – how can I be cooperative and do my part by helping out?”

ME! ME! ME! versus YOU – I really care about you!  It’s a constant tug-of-war which we fight internally (some battle more strongly than others) in virtually every action we take.  You can see it clearly in our holiday card behavior:

RE: a) and the winner is — SOCIAL takes this round!  Reciprocity indicates that we care about other people and don’t want to make them feel bad with our lack of reciprocal good behavior

RE: b) SOCIAL wins another round – When we do stuff out of habit, out of expectation, because it’s always done this way, we are pleasing others; we care about what their expectations of us

RE: c) now SELFISH wins one – and the longer and more detailed the self-indulgent holiday letter, the more the what’s-in-it-for-me beast gets fed


Here’s what you should do around holiday cards:

– Send only to the people that you really care about, especially those that are far away and you don’t see on a regular basis (skip the neighbors and acquaintances).

– With modern technology the card should be a picture of your immediate family, since those you care about want to see how you’ve changed from year-to-year and really don’t care about seeing a Hallmark artist’s version of snowflakes, bells, and glittery ornaments. A funny family picture is a good idea, proving that you don’t take yourself too seriously. It’s all about people, not things (and I don’t care if you think you’re not photogenic).

Handwrite something on the card, which makes it look like you cared enough to put in some effort at being personal.  Cards that arrive with only printers ink are so impersonal.

– If you feel absolutely compelled to update people on your activities, limit yourself to some bullet points printed on the back of the card, and spare people reading the single-spaced two-sided 8×11 letter.  Remind yourself that they have their own lives and really don’t care about yours in the detail you seem to want to give, which just comes across as so much bragging.

The current Gen Yers (the under 35 set) have largely ignored the pull to send out holiday cards, which is largely because they post all their pix on FB and Instagram – why send cards?  The internet has changed communication habits for a whole following of generations.  And Uncle Sam is crying buckets over his suffering postal system.

Next time the topic is: Left Brain/Right Brain: What Were You Thinking? – how the different sides of the brain influence our communication patterns, for better or for worse.

Post a comment on your view of holiday greetings received this year and holidays passed.

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