Skip the Ugly Sweater. Write a Christmas Card Instead

For many years, the bulk of the mail I received around the holidays came from charities, or stores I rarely, if ever did buisness with. Like all environmentally conscious people, I did my best to request that the offending businesses no longer send me voluminous mailings. However, my attempts to “wrangle the beast” felt more like “whack a mole” than anything else.  The catalogs seemed to breed like rabbits, and I never seemed to get ahead of it. It is true that junk mail is, indeed, a sad waste of natural resources. Much of it was never requested by the recipient in the first place and therefore, is never read. So, off to the landfill or (if we were lucky) the recycling bin it goes. I often think about the trees, chemicals, and fossil fuels it takes to produce these materials. Of all the wasteful things we do around the holidays (and let’s be honest, there are so many of them), sending an avalanche of junk mail to unwitting recipients must be near the top of the list.

But will I suggest that people also stop sending Christmas cards through the mail in December to save the planet? Heavens no! In recent years, I have noticed more articles in the media decrying the wastefulness of sending Christmas cards to friends and loved ones, painting this wonderful tradition with the same negative brush as the sending of holiday catalogs and other junk mail. We seem much more willing to look critically at posting cards than at the deep and significant impacts of using smart phones to communicate with one another over the holidays (and the rest of the year). If we are going to get analytical, let’s look at both activities with the same critical eyes.

One thing that cannot be included in the life cycle analysis of sending Christmas cards is the instrinsic importance of sending analogue communications to those we love. While writing my book, Please Write: Finding Joy and Meaning in the Soulful Art of Handwritten Letters, it became abundantly clear to me that simple traditions, like writing handwritten letters and cards for people are deeply valued by and important to people, providing a sense of connection and being cared for that is so needed in these times.

We are in the midst of a national epidemic of loneliness. As we become increasingly disconnected from one another in seemingly inconsequential ways, it can feel like “death by a thousand cuts”. The small things we do for one another matter a great deal as it turns out, and they add up to something profoundly important over time. Small acts of kindness are not the time-sucking, wasteful efforts we often make them out to be, and their importance should not be trivialized. Maybe we are just looking for an excuse to remove this annual holiday activity from our to-do lists. That is understandable on the one hand, but may be misguided, on another.

The increasing rarity of highly personal gifts (such as handwritten letters, handmade gifts, etc.) makes them more and more valued and treasured by most folks. I, for one, will be crushed to see them disappear in favor of their digital replacements. I mean, who does not delight in receiving “real” mail from Aunt Edith or their sister in Budapest instead of the everday texts or emails? People still value the time and effort someone put forth to pick out, write in, and send something especially for them. Sending something as simple as a Christmas card brings joy to so many people and does so for so little money and effort.

I submit that if we want to save the planet, we might instead reduce the number of gifts we buy for others, or reduce other holiday activities that are much more impactful on the planet than sending some (highly recyclable) Christmas cards. Take for example the traveling we do, the foods we eat, the booze we consume, the holiday lights we burn, the Ugly Christmas Sweaters we buy to use once and then discard.

I am here to make the case that we can still write our Christmas cards with limited guilt, knowing that of all the things we do around the holidays, sending the humble, but loved Christmas card is one of the lesser of the evils. There is still time to surprise and delight the people in your life. Our extra efforts matter. They are noted and appreciated by those we love. In these challenging and isolating times, we need more of these simple acts of love and caring in our lives, not fewer.

By purchasing Christmas cards that are made responsibly from recycled paper whenever we can, and by recycling the used cards we do not want to keep, we can reduce our environmental footprint further. The USPS will also get a needed boost at the same time. Handwritten cards and letters continue to be one of the smallest, greatest, most inexpensive gifts of all time.

Happy Holidays!