Holiday card etiquette

You sent me one, do I need to send you one back? I’m not sure what to do. Again, another issue has come up. Surprised? How come it seems I don’t know the most basic rules of etiquette for all the little things in life?


I’m not sure what to do. Again, another issue has come up. Surprised? How come it seems I don’t know the most basic rules of etiquette for all the little things in life?

Etiquette is tricky! I know to say ‘Please’ and ‘Thank You.’ I know to bring a bottle of wine to a dinner party. I know to hold the door open for the person behind me.

But, really, there are just some things I have no idea what to do when they occur.

My problem THIS WEEK is Christmas cards. But not whether they are good or bad. Christmas Cards are GREAT! I’ve never enjoyed opening mail more than these past few days, when the Christmas Cards are pouring in. I’m like, “Bill, bill you suck. But, awww, a holiday card wishing me a great year? NICE!”

I, too, made a Christmas card list, consisting of bosses and people I work with. My family (Jewish) doesn’t need Christmas cards and my friends, who know how disorganized I am, would probably call 911 over to my place to see if I was okay if they received a Christmas card from me.

My REAL issue is what to do when you get a Christmas card from someone you totally didn’t expect to get a Christmas card from?

The question that’s been bugging me is: Do you have to send a Christmas card BACK to someone who has sent you one? Do you send a ‘Thank You’ card for their Christmas card? Help!

I received a holiday card from a teacher at a school that my daughter is applying to next year. My daughter and I both met the teacher last month. Now, my friends, this was the nicest card I’ve ever received (Well, my daughter received.) This teacher, who isn’t even her teacher, signed it with a heart and mentioned a lot of things my daughter spoke to her about. In all, it was a VERY personal note.

“Man,” I thought. “They’re good at that school!” They’re good because the card was so unexpected and so nice. It hadn’t even OCCURRED to me to send them a Christmas card. Which made me feel guilty and like a bad person. Why didn’t I THINK of sending them a card? Am I that thoughtless?

One of my publicists also sent me a lovely Christmas card, also so personal and super sweet. Again, it didn’t even OCCUR to me to send her one. Not because I don’t like her – I really, really do – it’s just that she wasn’t on my top ten list of People I need To Get Cards Out To. Again, I felt guilty. Why HADN’T I thought of her, when she had thought of ME? I feel so guilty.

So, for days, I’ve been obsessing over whether or not one is supposed to send BACK a Christmas card. Yes, these are the worries that fill up my brain. I mean, if someone gives me a gift, I send a ‘Thank You’ card. So do I send a ‘Thank You’ card for their Christmas card? What do you do?

I spoke with etiquette expert and fashionista, Ceri Marsh, also the founder of, who receives and sends a ton of Christmas cards. She knows the etiquette and clearly is more thoughtful than I am. Here’s her advice:

1. “You’ll make yourself crazy if you try to respond to every card,” she says. “And most people aren’t sending cards in order to get one back.” OK, good point. Maybe they are really doing it out of the goodness of their heart. “And, remember,” she says. “You can always send a New Year’s card if you’re really feeling guilty.”

2. She says you should write a list of people you think really deserve a card – bosses are a must – but think about who would really appreciate getting one. “Your Great Uncle or your manicurist would be tickled to get a card, so do theirs before your best friend who will understand if you can’t get theirs done.” (Like I said, I didn’t even THINK about sending my best friends a card.)

3. She says that just because others send people personalized cards, you can keep it simple. “There’s nothing wrong with writing, ‘Have a lovely Christmas. We’ll be thinking of you!’

4. And, no, people don’t expect a card back, but she suggests I can always send an e-mail saying that I got their card and really appreciated it. She also says that e-cards are OK these days. “Of course, getting something in the mail, that’s not a bill, is particularly nice But sometimes that just can’t happen.” She says it really IS the thought that counts, and I should stop worrying so much. (THANKS!)

Marsh did make me feel a little better. She is probably right that people don’t expect cards back just because they sent you one. But, if I’m plagued with guilt after Christmas – which I probably will be – I’ll be sending out New Year Cards, a good idea. One of my New Years’ Resolutions, after all, is to be more thoughtful.