Which Co-Workers Get a Holiday Card?

2017 Update: We still stand by this advice on which co-workers get a holiday card, but you may also want to check out all of our posts on holiday business etiquette.

Reader J writes in with a request for help on holiday cards, specifically wondering which co-workers get a holiday card? Here’s her question:

I wonder whether you could post a very timely comment thread. I sat down, as I do every year, to address and send my holiday cards – only to realize that as a first-year attorney at a rather large firm that I had no idea who I should include on my mailing list. Likewise, I’ve accepted a clerkship in the relatively near future – would it be appropriate to send a card to the judge or to the chambers? I’m very curious to hear others’ thoughts on whom they include on their lists and why. When is it thoughtful to send a card to a higher-up, and when is it just kissing behind? :) How does one cull the list – it can’t be that one sends a card to every person one has ever worked with!

which co-workers get a holiday card

We sympathize — office politics are incredibly difficult to navigate come holiday-time.  First, we stand by our advice last year on how to send holiday cards to coworkers, from how to address the letters, what kind of letters to pick, and so forth.  (Pictured:  New Year’s Fireworks, no longer available at MomaStore.org for $17.95.)

Secondly:  Of course you don’t have to send them to everyone you work with, the possible exception being when you’re the owner of a business.  But presumably, you would know everyone then — which is most likely not the case now.  For our $.02, we would build the co-worker card list as follows:

  1. Good friends who you also see outside of work.
  2. Your secretary (and her cash gift or gift card — our old poll on this (with lots of comments) is here…)
  3. Co-workers with whom you actively work — if you’re on a team of 50 people but directly report to 2 people, and work with another 3 people at your level, we would include those 5.
  4. Bosses who know your name, even if you only report to someone below them.  Ask yourself this question:  If this boss were to call you out of the blue to ask about some work assignment you’ve done, how odd would that be?  (On this point — we would send a card to your future judge.  The absence of a card certainly won’t be missed, but your best wishes for a happy year in 2010 are certainly not going to be seen as unprofessional.  In fact, you may want to send a card to the judge’s chambers, rather than to his or her home — that way the current clerk, the secretary, and everyone will appreciate your warmth.)
  5. Old mentors. If you worked with someone over your summer internship and liked them, send them a holiday card — even if you haven’t talked to them in a year.  It’s a good way to stay present in their minds — always useful for networking — and helps pave the way from “colleague” to “friend.”  You may even want to use the opportunity to casually suggest lunch.
  6. Also consider: Department-wide cards to essential departments in your company.  The mail room — the duplicating department — the library — they’ll all be happy you thought of them (and, hopefully, will remember it when you need something).  (You can probably interoffice these — every other card should be sent by mail.)

Cards and stamps are expensive, and hand-addressing them (both on the card and the envelope) takes time and energy — so don’t kill yourself on the project. At the end of the day, if you have to cut people, our first cut would be to the people who are at your level who you don’t know that well.  Try to remember who talks to who, also — the last thing you want is for Boss #1 to say to Boss #2, “Wasn’t J’s holiday card great?” and then Boss #2 to feel slighted because you didn’t send him or her one.

Readers, weigh in — are you doing holiday cards?  How do you figure out which co-workers get a holiday card?

“Holly Jolly” images via Stencil.. which co-workers get a holiday card: holiday business etiquette fun

Which co-workers get holiday cards? It can be a tricky question of holiday business etiquette, so we asked the readers how they decide which colleagues, co-workers and friends get holiday cards.


  1. I do not send family holiday cards to co-workers etc. I send my work-provided holiday cards to work contacts as suggested above (old mentors, clients, etc.) but don’t send firm cards to anyone with whom I work (it would seem silly). I give my secretary a gift with attached gift tag.

  2. I have a very small office – only 50 people. For clients our company provides us with a company holiday card that gets sent to all of our clients. For co-workers, I send my family’s personal holiday card to coworkers who are friends. I will probably also do generic holiday cards to other managers at my level, and to those I work closely with and talk with on a regular basis.

    Personally (just my 2 cents) I hate this practice of putting holiday cards on each other’s desks… and giving each other little trinkets like cheap ornaments, etc. Let’s all just save our $20 and not get a little something for everyone in our department – because half the time it’s just crap, and then the rest of us feel obligated to have to get you something back.

    I’d prefer if we all just tell each other “Merry Christmas” and leave the gifts for family and close personal friends!

    • Here, here. Cards are one thing but I do not need more garbage cluttering up my office or my house. If you really want to give someone a gift, it should be edible and also generic, assuming that the person isn’t a close friend.

  3. I know there is probably a post somewhere out there, but what is the general amount that people give to their assistant/secretary?

    • There are two different posts on this… Unfortunately, I do not remember the results enough to succinctly recount them here. Sorry!



      • Thanks! I am never sure about this either. I think it varies a lot between markets – eg NYC seems to be a lot more than other cities.

        • Also, the market is different now than it was a couple of years ago. I was flush with cash then, now I have had my salary cut twice! Is anyone doing anything differently this year?

  4. I’ve never sent holiday cards and have only recently started receiving them from friends – it seems like something you start doing as you get a bit older, and we are all in our mid-20s and have only recently finished grad school. I would think it odd if I received holiday cards from anyone I work with, except possibly my secretary. I plan to get her a card, a Visa gift card for $100, and maybe some sort of small physical gift. (Except I have no idea what that should be. I think chocolates are almost universally appreciated, but she is diabetic! Any advice on that would be appreciated.)

    • I am having the same problem with the chocolates gift — I’m thinking of getting a nice little dried fruit arrangement instead (assuming I find one that is sugar free — I have seen them around Whole Foods, Trader Joes, etc.), or some nuts or something along those lines.

      Harry & David (store & web) also has a bunch of pretty sugar free options (type sugar free into search box). Or go with a plant!

    • Would a nice candle work for your secretary? Otherwise, a gift basket with dried fruit?

      • Fruit isn’t a great gift for a diabetic either. Diabetics have to limit all sugar and carbs, not just added sugar.

        A lot of the sugar-free stuff isn’t great – unless you see her eating sugar-free candy regularly I wouldn’t go that route. Personally I just avoid candy completely.

        Something she can keep at work would be a nice gift – a plant, if you know she likes them, or some sort of desktop knicknack.

        • Ooh, or one of those sausage and cheese gift packs would be great for a diabetic if you want to give food. Maybe I’m weird, but I LOVE those.

          • Thanks!! I actually see her “cheating” and eating things she shouldn’t pretty frequently, so I may skip food altogether and go with a candle or maybe a Christmas ornament since I know she celebrates.

          • Anonymous :

            I’m in the same boat with my assistant. I was thinking flowers this year with a little more cash. In the past, I have put together baskets with tea, diabetic candy, candles, etc. I was recently researching gift basket ideas for diabetics, and it seems like cheese, nuts, whole wheat crackers and maybe some fresh fruit (particularly bananas and apples) would work.

    • Thinking back to the days when I was an assistant, I recall that two of the most thoughtful presents my boss got me were (1) a Christmas ornament of a bride and groom (the year I got married) and (2) a lovely scarf from her trip to Paris (I am wearing it today). My boss and I had a very good relationship, so it was probably easier to think of thoughtful – but if you know your assistant has a particular hobby maybe you could get an ornament or something else related to that.

      If you don’t know her that well and want to do food instead, I’ve actually done a nice jar of pesto and other similar gourmet goodies for my husband’s secretaries in the past.

  5. I think good friends, mentors, and your secretary are fine to send cards to but I think it would be weird to send cards to everyone that you work with, unless it is someone at your level or below who has helped you a lot, in which case I would opt for a token gift (such as a box of handmade chocolates) instead of a card. Maybe it is just my office, but I think that with very few exceptions, people would think it was weird if you sent cards to your superiors.

    As for the Judge, I think you should send a card, but send it to chambers, even if addresses specifically to him/her. Particularly at this point, your relationship with the Judge is strictly professional and I think it would be weird to send a card to his or her house. (But I would make it your personal card and not a firm card.)

  6. How do folks feel about sending cards to old professors? Obviously, if you regularly correspond with them, it’s fine. But I am thinking of ones you haven’t really communicated with that much since school, but that you, say, worked as an R.A. for while in school, or maybe took a lot of classes with?

    • Personally, I think I would only stick to those that you still communicate with – otherwise it might be regarded as kind of random.
      I do have a related question though. As my name suggests, I’m still in school. Would it be awkward/inappropriate to send a holiday card to a professor? I have two in mind really – prof #1 I have developed a rapport with over the past year and was my advisor for a research project I did this semester and prof #2 is an adjunct (and local judge) who I was a teaching assistant for. Obviously, I would send said cards to office/chambers. Thoughts?

      • I think it is totally appropriate to send cards to old professors as long as you aren’t currently taking classes from them. The person who was advising you on a research project this semester is a little tricky, especially if your research project is for a letter grade (if it is pass/fail, I think it is a nonissue). It really depends on how good of a relationship you have.

        As for the original question, I send cards every year to the professors that I worked for (RA/TA) and those that supervised me on research projects even though I don’t correspond with them during most of the year. (And they do the same.) I also send cards to people who had offered to write recs for me when I was applying clerkships and would consider anyone who I took multiple classes with, as long as I spent some time with them in office hours such that I wasn’t just another face in the crowd. After all, I may need their help later on in my career and I don’t want to be cold calling them at that point.

      • I want to know, too!

        I don’t think it would be inappropriate, but part of me thinks it would be awkward. The again, I always overanalyze social situations way too much, so I might just think that because I often feel awkward, generally.

        • I sent holiday cards to professors while still in law school (and I continue to do so now that I have graduated), but only to 2-3 whom I felt close to. After I got my clerkship, I sent holiday cards to those profs who wrote me letters of recommendation (in addition to a thank you note that I sent to them earlier that year, in October). I don’t think it’s inappropriate at all, as long as you’re not overly affectionate/stalkerish or otherwise weird.

  7. I just finished clerking for a federal judge, and many of his clerks (past and future) sent holiday cards. I agree you should send them to chambers. You’re joining a “family” that includes your secretary and legacy clerks. My judge hung all of the holiday cards (and wedding invitations, and baby announcements) on the chambers refrigerator.

  8. For my first year at a large law firm, I sent no cards to co-workers prior to the holiday, period. I bought New Year’s cards, and addressed and sent them (over the day Christmas day) to people who sent me cards. Then, next year, I knew who would definitely send them. Most attorneys and support staff I know find cards to be a chore. I don’t want to add to it.

    As for gifts for the few close people I worked with -secretary, immediate boss, and I put a couple of generic gifts in my office for anyone else who gave me one.

    • I’m a big fan of New Year’s cards too — it gives you more time to write them and there is no religious affiliation.

  9. This is the first year I’ve ever done holiday cards, and I had a great time writing notes to family and friends that I haven’t (or have!) seen recently.

    About the old mentors… I’ve clerked at a couple of firms where I really clicked with some of the lawyers. I have kept in touch with a few of them, but I haven’t been proactive with most of them (we’ll say hi if we see each other in a restaurant or whatever, but I don’t email them regularly or anything). And by “in touch,” I mean that I’ve emailed them a handful of times since the clerkship ended. Should I send holiday cards to those people? I considered it, but I don’t want to seem too clingy, and I’m not sure if anyone would get offended for not receiving one (the firms are about 30 lawyers and about 65 lawyers).

    Also, does anyone have any advice about getting back in touch or staying in touch with those that I liked? Like I said, I don’t want to seem clingy or like I’m just trying to get a job (I’m still in law school). I just genuinely liked a lot of them and think they have great advice to give. Many folks said “Stay in touch with the firm” when I left, but I’m still not exactly sure what that means.

    • Ahhh I have the same question – how do I “stay in touch with the firm” without approaching annoying/creeper status, seeming like I -just- want a job (because, let’s face it … I do want a job) …

      • I have a friend who sends out mass mails for all her causes/legal developments that she finds interesting, and CC’s a bunch of old mentors, profs, classmates, friends, etc. It seems to really work for her, but I don’t think I could pull something like that off.

        Sometimes, though, I find that if you see something in the news that seems relevant (say, an interesting case that reflects a development on something you worked on/studied, or something more personal that would be of interest — if you know the person well), it’s fine to e-mail to say “this reminded me of …. / thought you might be interested to know….”

        And cards are a great way to break the ice, too! Just keep them simple.

    • I can’t think of how it could ever hurt to send a holiday card – as long as it is a tasteful one! I still send a card to the appellate court justice I clerked for after law school, to the firm I clerked for during law school, and to my boss before that. I genuinely liked the people I worked for and want to let them know I still think of them fondly.

      I only sent a holiday card to the chambers of the federal court judge I did an internship with during law school the year after I did the internship. The internship didn’t last long, I didn’t have a close relationship with anyone there, and I moved to a different area of the state almost immediately after the internship.

    • I agree, as someone who has said ‘Stay in touch’ – I love to get updates even from people I did one informational interview with. A short holiday card or update when something big happens (e.g. new job or passing the bar) is very appropriate. And it’s also smart networking.

  10. It is really not a great idea to give your diabetic secretary dried fruit baskets. Speaking as a diabetic, it is very difficult to eat dried fruit. A small box of raisins contains half the carbs many diabetics are allotted for a meal. Also, I am disappointed when others try to give me food that I cannot eat without getting sick. I am thrilled, however, when my dietary needs are remembered. If you suspect that all other administrative staff will be receiving chocolate, then your secretary would enjoy being included in the crowd with sugar free chocolate. If she is not a fan of chocolate or is a huge fan of something else, keep that in mind. You would be safe with a basket of fresh fruit, nuts, gourmet cheese and crackers, or peanut butter filled pretzels. I personally like those gourmet fresh apples that are coated in chocolate and nuts. They are somewhat healthy and still a delicious celebratory treat. You could also go with some nice coffee or teas, depending on taste. Dried fruit doesn’t sound very fun with all of the other treats around.

  11. I like the idea of holiday cards in general (not necessarily to co-workers unless you know them well), but I wanted to put in my two cents about how to address a couple. I decided to keep my maiden name and I don’t mind when people don’t realize that and write, “Michael and Rachel Jones” but it really bugs me when people write, “Mr. and Mrs. Michael Jones.” I have a name, people! I have recently received a slew of wedding invitations written in this manner — I know people don’t mean to offend, but I hate this type of address because it makes me feel like I have no identity separate from my husband. Thoughts?

    • I’m with you; I don’t address anything way unless I’m sure the recipient prefers it. I’d rather someone get offended by my ignorance of proper forms of address than because they feel I’m subsuming their identity into their husband’s.

    • Meh. It’s formal and it is “correct” etiquette. It doesn’t bother me although I wouldn’t send cards addressed to Mr. and Mrs. John Smith unless I knew that Mrs. Smith appreciated such formalities.

      • Oh, and easy solution: I address my cards to “The Jones Family.” Even if the Jones family is just Michael, Rachel and two schnauzers, no one will be offended by receiving a card addressed that way.

        • Same here. I address cards differently depending on what I think is most appropriate.

          At the end of the day though, I dont send cards to people who would get offended by how I addressed them. If we are not close enough or friendly enough that they would be offended by the gesture, then they probably havent made the list anyway.


          • Oh, and I send out personal cards to some fellow associates and attorneys that I am friends with or share commonalities with. (I send a card with a picture of the kids and our family from shutterfly or what have you). So, again, if I dont feel comfortable with them seeing or receiving such a card, they are not on the “personal card” list. the rest of us lawyers in the firm, dont really do anything for each other. Colleagues outside of the firm will get a “firm card.”

    • I hate receiving cards addressed to Mr. and Mrs. Michael Jones. A lot.

      I can accept it from my older relatives. When younger people do it, I do get really offended. The point of etiquette is to make others feel comfortable. That tradition makes so many people so uncomfortable that I would argue that it’s not really good etiquette anymore.

    • I asked an etiquette expert specifically about this. Apparently, a woman’s “social” name is attached to her husband’s, regardless of what her legal or professional name is. Since the card/envelope is addressed to the couple (not 2 individuals), the recipients are identified by their name as a unit — which is the husband’s surname.

      • But the opinion of an etiquette expert doesn’t mean anything if you’re pissing off the person who is supposed to be the beneficiary of the etiquette.

        • Yes, and you’ll notice that I didn’t defend the practice, but just explained the rationale behind it.

          Also, one could argue that if you’re sending a card to someone you know from a professional setting, you should use their professional name, not their social one.

          • Also, one could argue that if you’re sending a card to someone you know from a professional setting, you should use their professional name, not their social one.

            Sending a card to, for instance, a female law firm partner under whom you work addressed as Mr. and Mrs. Husband’s Name does seem like a recipe for disaster.

        • Right. The very purpose of etiquette is to make others feel at ease. If you know something will give offense, you shouldn’t do it. But OTOH, the reason that conventions for “social” names came about is to make the card-writer feel at ease.

  12. No cards at work. This week a coworker sent around an email asking for everyone’s home address so she could mail cards. Very inappropriate and also violates the HR privacy policy.

    • I have wondered how you best go about getting the addresses of people you don’t know that well for cards. It seems weird to e-mail someone you haven’t seen in a while or who you work with just asking for their address, but it also seems weird to write a long letter in preparation for your Christmas card.

      • I’ve wondered this as well — what is the etiquette for procuring mailing addresses, particularly if it is your first year at a new firm?

        • Whitepages.com or some other online source. Or look in the firm directory if firm policy doesn’t prohibit using it in this way.

          • If you don’t know the person well enough to know their address, should you really be sending them a card?

          • I’m with AIMs on this one. I don’t think there’s any reason to send a person a card if you don’t know them well enough to have their address.

          • Anonymous :

            I have a partner in my firm that sends invitations to me with as Mr. and Mrs. Joe Smith. Really? I have some family members who do this too. It bothers me but not enough to say anything. I don’t mind Mr. and Mrs. Smith, but I do not like being called Mrs. Joe Smith. I know it was “correct” etiquette, but I like having an identity.

          • Ditto — if you don’t know them well enough to already have their home address, then don’t send them a card. That said, my former firm had everyone’s home addresses on the intranet.

      • Wouldn’t do it for people you work with because of privacy concerns. If you want to send them something, send it through interoffice mail. As for people you haven’t seen in a while, it might not be ideal, but myself and many of my friends send out an annual request to all of our friends for current contact information. Given that people have been moving around a lot since we graduated from law school a couple of years ago, the fact that you don’t have someone’s current address (in a different city or country) doesn’t really mean you don’t know them well enough to send them a card.

  13. I am a fan of holiday cards but I think you need to be careful with the type of card you send to your work superiors. A couple of years ago a new associate in my group eagerly distributed cards to everyone that had a very awkward photo of her with her pet. This may have been well received by her friends, but it stuck out as odd to the rest of us. It may go without saying but it’s best to keep work cards on the more generic side.
    Personally, I like that my group does not have a habit of distributing cards (or trinkets) during the holidays. I give a gift basket and cash to my secretary and send my boss/mentor a card to her home but that is it for current co-workers and I did not start sending my boss a card until we had worked together a couple of years and had developed more of a mentor relationship.

    • I really agree with the be careful about the type of card. A few years ago someone game me a very religious Christmas card at work. Everyone considered it a strange, and some of us who aren’t Christian were a bit offended too. Make your cards generic, holiday-oriented. Cards of the family before the Christmas tree is great for your personal friends, but weird for co-workers.

      • I’m not of a religion affiliated with either Christmas or Hanukkah/ Chaunukah, so I agree, try to keep the professional holiday cards as generic as possible. I am usually pretty laid-back about holiday confusion (I celebrate Christmas in the gift-giving/ day off sense – no offense to those for whom it means more!), but there are people that get PISSED about this kind of holiday mix-up business.

      • Yeah? I get twice-yearly Eid cards from a friend and former colleague. It never bothered me, and I doubt they mind my Christmas cards. I think people who’d be offended by something like that are just too reactionary. The card sender shouldn’t have to pretend she doesn’t celebrate Christmas and send generic holiday cards.

        • Your situation is slightly different: She is a FRIEND and FORMER colleague. Call me PC, but my aim is to keep everyone, including the horribly sensitive people at my office, as content as possible. I don’t agree with it, but come on, it’s the holidays, make the annoyingly PC people happy! =)

  14. I have made it a good practice to send a holiday card to everyone in my department. I work for a large company but I think its a nice thing to do. I found great cards from a place near me in Houston called Liberty Office Supplies. Awesome stuff! http://www.libertyoffice.com/Default.aspx