Christmas card etiquette

Oct 8, 2009 at 3:26 p.m. ET

What kind of Christmas card should you send -- and to whom? Christmas cards remain a strong tradition during the season. Keep these card etiquette tips in mind as you prepare your annual mailing.

Woman writing holiday cards

What to send

Split your list into personal and professional contacts. Then, purchase two different Christmas card styles so your boss doesn't get the photo collage of your kids.

Christmas cards for your personal contacts, however, are a great opportunity to showcase your family's unique and personal style. Do you have a large family with young children who are growing and changing every day? Consider creating a card with a relaxed, impromptu family photo on the front -- the goofier, the better!

But what do you do once the kids are gone? Empty-nesters don't have to send a boring, preprinted card. Think ahead and pack some Santa hats on your next cruise, or bring your mittens and scarves to the beach for a funny photo opp.

Photo cards have come a long way, and online sites offer many options: Religious, professional, personalized... with single or multiple personal images and lots of other choices.

the mailing list

Now that you have decided on the perfect Christmas card for this holiday season, to whom do you send it? Christmas cards are a great way of reconnecting with people you don't see all the time, and most people appreciate receiving holiday cheer (no matter who it is from). Sending your Christmas card to everyone in your address book can get a little pricey, though.

If mass mailing is not your style or if you have chosen to send a Christmas letter including every detail from the last year, a smaller, more elite list is more appropriate. A good rule of thumb is to think about whether you would want to receive a card from that person; if your answer is "yes," then add her to your list.

When to send

The post office can be a busy place in December, so send your Christmas cards the day or the week after Thanksgiving. This allows your friends and family time to enjoy your Christmas card in the days before the holiday. Many people display the cards they receive for the entire month. If you wait too long, your Christmas card will be thrown into a box or the trash almost immediately upon arrival.

How to sign

Preprinted verses are fine, but preprinting the signature is in poor taste. Show your friends and family that you care by signing your own name and maybe even a short note to make your Christmas card that much more personal. Remember that, when you are signing for the entire family, you traditionally start with the father, then the mother, and end with the children, from oldest to youngest. If you have a large family, avoid a cramp in your hand by signing something like "John, Mary and family."

More holiday card ideas:

12 ways to recycle Christmas cards
Craft your own Christmas cards