2017 Update: We still stand by this advice on navigating the tricky waters on holiday cards, but you may also want to check out all of our posts on holiday business etiquette.
Thanksgiving means a lot of things — too much turkey, impressive sales, and the opening bell for mailing holiday cards. Some law firms and corporations give their employees cards to send to clients and customers, but many businesswomen send cards on their own. These cards are a great way of extending holiday wishes to coworkers, getting your name in front of a boss you barely work with, and shoring up relationships with clients. They can also be very tricky waters — even Miss Manners ducked the question a few years ago! We’ve laid out our advice as best we can. (If you have any corrections or thoughts, please comment!)
Who Gets ‘Em
Some people send out holiday cards to every single person in the office. We don’t recommend taking this route unless you have a lot of free time on your hands.
Instead, we tend to send holiday cards to the following groups of people:
- coworkers who are also friends
- coworkers with whom we work closely (not sending a card to this group would be rude)
- coworkers with whom we’d like to work more closely
- coworkers who send us cards
What to Send
Avoid cards that have religious phrases printed on the inside, or any reference to Santa Claus or Christmas in the graphics. (For example, the “Christmas Star” holiday card that we used above would be something we would only send to a coworker who we knew to be very religious — it’s a depiction of the nativity that has a verse from the Book of Matthew inside the card.) By contrast, a card that says “Season’s Greetings” or “Happy holidays!” is something you can send to anyone. Avoid blank cards if you’re mailing out dozens of letters — that’s way too much writing to do.
When choosing your card, aim for something sophisticated and classic that still shows a bit of your personality. Museum stores are often a great place to shop for cards, because even if it’s not to your recipient’s liking, it’s hard to seem unsophisticated if you’re sending out art. (Next January, note that whatever cards the museums don’t sell will be on serious discount — sometimes as low as $2 for a pack of 12 cards. Try to stock up.)
What to Write on the Inside
When you’re sending out cards in bulk, writing as little as possible is a good goal. The accepted bare minimum is a sign-off phrase (“All the Best” or “Fond regards”) and your signature. (If the coworker knows you well, signing just your first name is fine.) If you’re married, you should sign both of your names, both first and last — especially if your husband’s last name is different than your own.
In theory, inside a holiday card you should also write the recipients’ names. For example, in a card that already has “Happy Holidays” printed inside, you may want to modify it so the inside of the card then says: “Bob and Jane, Happy Holidays! All my best, Corporette.” However, this can be a bit problematic if you’re writing to the partner and his wife, but you’ve never met her. (It’s even more problematic if her name is something like “Elizabeth,” and you’re not sure if she goes by nickname.) It seems to us that it’s better to be thought of as cold, rather than overfamiliar — so we tend to skip the names on the inside of the card.
How to Address The Letters
Here is where things get truly tricky. The official rules are the following:
- If a man and woman are married, and have the same last name, the card should be addressed to “Mr. and Mrs. Bob Smith.”
- If the woman has a different name from her husband, both names should be listed, with titles, on the same line: “Mr. Bob Smith and Ms. Jane Doe.”
- If a couple is living together, but not married, their names go on two different lines:
Mr. Bob Smith
Ms. Jane Doe
New York, NY
- If one person in the couple is a medical doctor (not a Ph.D or J.D.), the person with the title should go first — if it’s the man, “Dr. and Mrs. Bob Smith” is correct. If it’s the woman, it should be “Dr. Jane and Mr. Bob Smith.”
Unfortunately, traditional etiquette rules don’t answer everything. For example, if your boss is a woman who has taken her husband’s last name, you might be ill-advised to send a holiday card to “Mr. and Mrs. Bob Smith.” (Let’s face it: modern, it ain’t.) In that circumstance, we might buck tradition and send it to “Jane Smith and Bob Smith.” If your boss lives with a partner of the same sex, but they live in a state that does not allow gay marriage, it seems presumptuous (to us) to put their names on the same line as if they would marry, if only given the chance. In that circumstance, we tend to put their names on two different lines, as we would with any unmarried couple living together. (If anyone has better information or advice for our readers, please write in.)
Double check all names.
Ask if you’re unsure how someone’s partner spells their name (and keep note of it for next year — asking once is thoughtful; asking every year is annoying.)
If the address is particularly tricky — a doctor married to a Lieutenant Colonel in the army, for instance — ask them how to properly address them. (Note that it may not be right, but at least you won’t annoy them when you send it to them.)
Letters to Heroes
If you’re sending out a ton of letters, take some time to send a card to a service member or a veteran. This Snopes.com article has more information, but if you can postmark your card by December 10, 2008, the American Red Cross is collecting cards for heroes. Send the mail to:
Holiday Mail for Heroes
P.O. Box 5456
Capitol Heights, MD 20791-5456
(The article has other great information, such has how to donate a calling card or gift certificate to a service member or veteran, also.)
Cards: addressing a tricky issue [Miss Manners]
The 8 Rules of Business Greeting Card Etiquette [About.com]
Holiday Cards Dos and Don’t (No Confetti) [WSJ]
Addressing Envelope with Dr. Only for Medical [Advice with Dr. Dave and Dr. Dee]