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The good Christmas postcard

One might guess that it’s obvious how to write a good Christmas postcard. Looking at the flood of utterly bad ones, it obviously is not obvious.

Every year we send and receive tons of Christmas postcards to friends and business partners alike. Both in digital and analog shape. Judging by my own intake (and knowing of that of others), I can say that around 10-20% really get my attention and make me smile … while 80-90% completely fail to (subsequently making their way into the digital or analog dustbin).

This is not because I am overly critical. This is just because the majority of Christmas postcards just miss the point of what they were intended to achieve. To a point where it almost hurts.

In my eyes, writing a good Christmas postcard only needs to satisfy three criteria, no more:

  1. It should be a real postcard (not an email)
  2. The text should be hand-written, no pre-printed text
  3. The text should be specifically meaningful

If you cannot comply with just one of those three points, then don’t write a postcard for Christmas at all. I really mean it.

Because it will completely miss the point. It’s really all or nothing in my eyes. You want to make people smile and get to their very hearts (and this also holds for business postcards). So don’t compromise. And yes, it takes time and effort. That’s the downside. But there is no shortcut, no way around. If you don’t have the time to consider all three points, then just save all your time and write no Christmal card. Period.

What do I mean by those three points and why? Well, let’s go through them, one by one:

Regarding email versus traditional mail: An email is an efficient, low-effort and low-cost way of communication. It’s written quickly, sent quickly, and incurs zero monetary cost. That’s perfect in terms of getting communication done in an efficient way. Certainly not what is the aim of a Christmas postcard: A Christmas postcard should not be characterized by low-cost, low-effort, and efficiency … it rather should be the opposite to demonstrate you really care for the recipient. We are not on the rational side of things, we are purely talking emotional.

Handwritten versus pre-printed text. Only take postcards that are blank, with lots of space to fill. Forget about those postcards that bear some proverb of someone else (not from you) printed on it. Nobody gives a damn about this, it’s like an advertisement that provokes banner blindness. And it doesn’t matter that you sign with your name, the only hand-written element. It also doesn’t matter if the entire team signed the pre-printed text with all their names. No matter how many they are. You just failed to express that you really care … but only shipped some impersonal mass-mailing to your contacts. One could basically consider them as spam mails in a more appealing guise.

However, if you hand-write your mail, from beginning to end, you show that you really care for the recipient, that you invested — for her or for him.

The text should be specifically meaningful. This might sound somewhat abstract, so let’s dismantle this abstract phrase. Every human wants to be recognized as the unique individual she or he really is. And we are all longing for being seen as such, as that unique person. Your job, being the sender, is to show that you are aware of that uniqueness. In German, there is a term for that, it’s called “Einzelwahrnehmung”, the ability to cherish each person’s uniqueness. This is what is needed here.

If you tick the first two boxes mentioned before, i.e., you write a real postcard and write it top to bottom with your bare hand, you are still not there yet. Suppose you write the standard text “Dear Ms. X, I wish you and your family Merry Xmas and a Happy New Year! Yours, sincerely, Mr. Y” … then you still don’t get to people’s hearts.

Because it’s non-specific: This letter could be sent to any person around the globe (or at least to a member of the Western world and Christian population). Moreover, it’s also non-meaningful. It’s nothing that has a particular meaning to the recipient, whoever she or he is.

So, before you write the postcard, hold a second and take your time to come up with at least one sentence that is specific and meaningful to the person you send the mail to.

It is specific so that it only matches that one person, and no one else. You could refer to a trait of that person that you admire, a moment you shared that you would like to bring up, say thank you for, etc.

It is meaningful by refering to some aspect that really matters … to the person that you send the mail to. For instance, in your mail you could refer to a meeting at a certain time and place you shared. This would be specific; but it would not be meaningful. However, if you take the postcard to express your gratitude of knowing this person — not only for the sake of having a good business relationship, but also for enjoying her profound expertise in contemporary art — then you are on the meaningful side.

That said, one meaningful and specific sentence is mandatory, in my eyes. If you fail to come up with one, then don’t write the postcard.

That’s all there is to it in terms of writing Christmas postcards.

Still, a good share of season’s greetings are still non-personalized emails. I don’t know what they do to you, but I can tell what they do to me: Nothing at best (I just delete them, they are spam). At worst, they make me really angry and leave me with a bad sentiment towards the sender. For just not caring and rather wasting my time and attention.

I hope that what I write here was commonplace. I hope it was platitudinous. Because then we’d never get bad Christmal postcards again.

Merry Christmas.

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