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Buttoned Up: Real holiday cards are better than e-cards

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Right after Halloween, many people start to think about getting their holiday cards organized. But then life gets hectic, right?

Cut to a few weeks later, when you realize you still haven't figured out which photo to use on the card, let alone ordered any, and panic starts to set in. That's when last-minute types start asking themselves: "Is it gauche to send an e-holiday card?"

Sending "season's greeting" cards is a tradition that goes back more than 150 years, and is, quite simply, a lovely way to stay in touch with family and friends, no matter what you celebrate. They are nice to give and even nicer to get — we personally love the respite from the endless stream of junk mail that clutters up our mailboxes. We love opening the envelopes and seeing the beautifully designed cards — and, of course, the family photos. Sarah, for one, displays all of the cards that come to her house on a ribbon that hangs from a mantel in her living room. Having them displayed this way gives the feeling that far-flung families and good friends are right there.

We both strongly prefer physical cards to e-cards. Getting an e-card is certainly a step above reading a post on Facebook or Twitter, but the effect is still fleeting. After the computer is shut, the people who sent those e-cards disappear. They are more difficult to share with family members, and because they can't be displayed physically in the spaces where you celebrate, don't add much to the spirit of the season.

Yet there is nothing technically gauche about the format. It is better for the environment, they are less expensive and keeping it virtual is much easier for busy people to do. We would much rather send and receive e-cards than skip them altogether. Especially because e-card designs have improved dramatically in recent years.

One might argue that with the advent of Facebook, Twitter and a million other ways to stay connected, we don't really need holiday cards anymore. After all, if you know what your family and friends have had for breakfast today, already saw what their cute kids looked like in their Halloween costumes and know what their cats and dogs are up to as well, what else is there to catch up on?

In fact, it seems that Americans are letting go of their holiday-greetings habit. The U.S. Postal Service reports that Americans sent 7.5 percent fewer holiday cards in 2009 than they did in 2007, a trend that is expected to continue.

In the end, it's a trend that makes us sad. In this world of insta-everything, the act of taking the time and effort to hold another loved one in your thoughts for even a minute as you jot (or type) a quick note to that person is one of the greatest gifts you can give to card recipients and to yourself. Not only will it enrich everyone's perspective — after all, what is more important than friends and family? — but the time you spend sending and receiving cards offers an opportunity to reflect on all that you have to be grateful for.

So what's your thinking? Are you going to be sending greetings this year, or are you throwing in the towel? Are you in favor of e-cards or physical cards?

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