What To Write In A Holiday Card

Just as we look forward to presents and parties this time of year, we can’t get enough of holiday cards! We love them all: from colorful cards sent by snail mail to animated emails to newsletters summing up what everyone in the family has been up to all year. Fun fact: the very first holiday card in 1843 depicted children toasting with wine—oops!

But when it comes to sending your own holiday cards this season, it can be confusing to know how to get them just right. The fear of accidentally offending someone or leaving someone off your list can be daunting.

That’s why we’ve put together these dos and don’ts to kickstart (or improve) your holiday writing tradition.

Do start early

You’ll want to leave yourself time to get (or make, if you’re ambitious) cards, write a message, and sign them. If your holiday card includes a picture of your adorable family in matching elf costumes, you’ll need even more time to get the costumes, take the photo, and have it printed. Keep that in mind!

If you’re planning on sending your holiday cards via the post, it’s recommended you mail them before December 17. So think about the time you have, and what you can reasonably accomplish, which leads us to …

Don’t be overly ambitious

Maybe you’re one of these people who, like Martha Stewart, can handcraft a card for each person on your 40-person list and still get them out on time. But most of us mere mortals are not Martha Stewart (sadly).

People are happy to get a holiday card because it shows you care about them and are thinking about them. Whether it’s store-bought or handmade, it’s the thought that counts.

Now that we’ve set reasonable expectations, let’s get into the details of writing those holiday cards.

Do write the recipient’s name

Even if it’s a store-bought card with a pre-printed message, you want to be sure to write the recipient’s name(s) at the top of the card. You can be formal or informal, depending on the context.

For a less formal card, you can use the formula of “Dear” plus first names: e.g., Dear Jack & Jill.

If you’re writing a more formal card, then you’ll want to use honorifics and last names: e.g., Dear Mr. & Dr. Falldownhill or Dear Ms. Dalloway.

Don’t guess the spelling

When you’re writing the recipient’s name, make sure you get it right. If it’s a name you’re unfamiliar with or one that has multiple spellings, double-check your address book or other references (social media works) to ensure that you haven’t left out a letter or put in one too many. It’s not a good look.

Do include a personal message

Even if your holiday card comes from a box or is an online widget, you should include a personal message to the recipient. This can be short and sweet, as simple as:

  • Wishing you and your family a happy holiday season!
  • The holidays come but once a year: enjoy!
  • Thinking of you over the holidays.
  • Hoping you have a joyous and peaceful holiday.
  • Have a wonderful New Year!
  • Let the spirit of the season inspire you.
  • Warm wishes for the holiday and New Year.
  • Hope this season is filled with joy and cheer!
  • Sending you good luck into the New Year!

Stock phrases are a good starting point, but you can also include some personal details. For instance, you might consider adding:

  • the important things that happened to you or your family this year, like marriages or births;
  • a wish for the recipient’s health, especially if you know they’ve been under the weather this year;
  • or a note about your desire to see them if they live far away.

All that said, unless you’re writing a holiday letter, your holiday card note shouldn’t be too long. Aim for no more than 150 words.

If you’re writing a holiday letter, keep it to a single page long (about 400 words). Nobody needs to know about every detail of your year, trust us.

Don’t assume everyone celebrates the same holidays

If you’re sending cards to people you know well, you probably know what holidays they celebrate, so feel free to write “Merry Christmas” and “Happy Hanukkah.” [Is it Tis the Season or ’Tis the Season? Find out!]

But if you’re sending cards to coworkers, family, or friends you know less well, don’t assume they celebrate the same holidays you do. That can cause unnecessary offense.

If you’re unsure, stick to the more generic happy holidays or season’s greetings. Make it easy on yourself. Or, as the Emily Post Institute suggests, you can also opt to send a more secular greeting for the new year.

If the holidays mean awkward family gatherings for you, keep these tips ready to help you avoid and navigate uncomfortable conversations.

Do be funny (if you want)

You can absolutely send formal holiday cards. In which case, we don’t recommend you include jokes.

But if you’re sending cards to friends and family, a little bit of levity can be nice. That said, avoid any jokes that could be offensive. For example, many people include humorous pictures of their family on their holiday cards. It’s a little cheesy, but also kind of wonderful.

Don’t be depressing

Unless you’re Eeyore, you should try to keep a positive, happy tone in your holiday card message.

Don’t write “This year has sucked” or “Everything is garbage.” If you feel that way, we get it—the holidays can be tough. But holiday cards are a place where the maxim If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all rules.

If you’re too bummed out to think of any good news to share, just write a generic message like the ones we suggested above.

Do have everyone in the family sign the card

After you’ve written your short, thoughtful note in your card, be sure to sign it. If it’s just you, that’s simple enough.

If you’re sending the card on behalf of your entire immediate family and are going the paper route, pass the card around the family to have them sign. If you’re sending an online card, just include everyone’s name in the signature line.

Don’t boast

Holiday cards and letters are an opportunity to reach out to the people you love and care about. It’s not an opportunity for you to boast about how wonderful you and your family are (although we are sure they are wonderful).

This isn’t a resumé, it’s a highlight reel. Instead of listing every good deed every family member has done all year, pick one or two of the most important things to mention in your message. Moves, weddings, graduations, and births are worth mentioning. Volunteer work at the local soup kitchen, while admirable, is not.

We wish you the best of luck with your holiday cards this season. Sometimes the cards are as hectic as the holidays … so grab a cup of eggnog and get writing!

Learn the traditional greetings and wishes to recognize and celebrate the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah.

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