As an online old-timer, I can attest to this fact: few subjects stir as much controversy as computers and Christmas cards.
The questions come year after year. Should we use the computer to address the cards? Write a Christmas letter on inkjet letterhead?
What about pre-printed signatures? Is it okay to use e-mail to send holiday greetings?
What's the right-and-wrong of harnessing computer technology to make it easier to send Christmas cards and holiday letters?
This issue has more partisans than the Congress. On one hand (and I say that advisedly) stand the Purists. They're best exemplified by the middle-aged "etiquette columnist" from a small-town Southern newspaper who sniffed at the very idea of computer-generated address labels. Charging that "these computers are taking over everything!" this techno-Luddite insisted that only hand-signed, hand-addressed cards would meet her parochial standard. "Oh, my aching hand," I moaned, as I turned quickly to Dear Abby and the comics page.
At the other extreme lie the Technology Elite. Actual Christmas cards via snail mail? How provincial! This group sends send real-time streaming video greetings to their cutting-edge friends. What? Some stodgy relatives might not possess the latest and greatest mobile devices to receive these offerings? Get with the century, people!
When it comes to the tradition-versus-technology debate, most of us, it's safe to say, fall somewhere in the middle. We like to receive cards. We like to send them, but we get bogged down writing 150 "personal" greetings and hand-addressing the envelopes. Most of us believe that some personal touch, say, a signature, is required. We're also somewhat apt to misplace the address book and last year's Christmas card list.
[As to the issue of Christmas letters, I refuse to enter the fray. Either you like them, or you don't. Either you send them, or you don't. I don't want to hear a peep out of anyone on this debate! Take it outside!]
It's helpful to see the question as a continuum. There are several intermediate steps between "everything by hand" and "total cyber" greeting strategies, and one may be right for you:
- traditional cards, signed by hand and addressed by hand
- traditional cards, signed by hand and addressed by computer
- Christmas letter computer-printed on special holiday paper, signed by hand and addressed by computer
- computer cards containing a printed, personalized greeting, signed by hand and addressed by computer
- 100% virtual card sent via the Internet
Which one is right for you? Only you can decide.
There are two strategies, however, that are key to an organized holiday season: a computerized address list, and proper mail addressing.
Harness computer power
First, whatever level of holiday greeting meets your comfort zone, put your address list in a computer database. It's the single biggest time-saving tip when it comes to holiday cards and letters.
(Yes, our Printables library does include a traditional Christmas card list form for completeness, but I hope you won't use it!)
Even if you choose to address cards by hand, you'll benefit from the speed and convenience of a computer database or contacts manager.
Changes of address are simple to record. Hard-copy address lists are easy to print. Integration with smartphone and mobile devices makes it easy to keep contacts up-to-date.
Computer-printed addresses save a tremendous amount of time and energy, two scarce resources during the holiday season. You'll have much more time to write a truly personal note if you're not addressing envelopes by hand.
Heed hints from the Post Office
Second, when the Post Office speaks, listen and learn! A greeting delayed, so to speak, is a greeting denied. Addressing envelopes for today's automated mail delivery system will get your greeting cards and Christmas letters on their way in good time.
Forget everything your fourth-grade teacher told you about flowing capitals and indented addresses. Here is how the Post Office would like to see your cards addressed:
MR AND MRS STEPHEN EWER
P O BOX 1234
ANYTOWN WA 98765-4321
The rules are: (1) use block capital letters, (2) do not use periods or commas, (3) use proper postal abbreviations and (4) use the nine-digit zip code, if you know it.
Missing Zip codes? The Internet makes it easy. Find the USPS Zip Code Locator here. Get a list of state and addressing abbreviations here.
Today's software can often go a step further and add a postal bar code to the envelope or label, but I hesitate to raise the ire of the Purists to quite that extent. Let's just say if you're on the Geek Cool side of the fence, it's a nifty touch, and the Postmaster will thank you.
One family's method
Over the past few years, our household has traveled halfway down the continuum and everyone seems pleased with the result. In early November, I draft our Christmas letter [I stand revealed!] and print all the envelopes.
After my spouse reviews the letter and makes any additions or corrections, I print personalized copies for each recipient on our list. Word processing software with mail merge features make it easy to add the correct names to each letter.
We use pre-printed inkjet letterhead with holiday themes, although new computer cards are now available for purchase at office supply stores. Sophisticated greeting card software can also create custom cards with a computer printer.
The letters are matched to the envelopes. During weekend TV time over the next two weeks, both of us write a personal message on each letter. Fold, seal and mail, and our greetings are on their way in early December.
Think it over. How can you use the power of your computer to speed and organize this task? Whatever you choose to do, now is the time to begin! Build your list, buy your supplies and pick up your stamps this week . . . for an organized Christmas!