Palo Alto Weekly

- December 13, 2013

Yes, Virginia, people are still sending holiday cards

Some choose to showcase their creativity while sending season's greetings

by Kathy Cordova

As a child, Palo Altan Sue Kemp remembers everybody sending cards during the holidays. Her family even had a tradition around it.

"One of my jobs at Christmas time, besides polishing silver, was addressing Christmas card envelopes. We sat around the dining-room table and did them together. It was a family thing," she said.

These days Kemp is getting fewer cards than she used to and those she does receive are less personalized.

"Communications have speeded up so fantastically, and people are busy," she said. "Not many want to spend the necessary time to communicate personally with others since it is so easy to keep in touch with one another through social media."

In our hectic, high-tech, hyper-connected world, is mailing holiday greetings becoming a thing of the past? Do people still take the time to not only send physical cards in this digital age, but also to make them personal?

The answer may be as surprising as the sound of reindeer on your roof on Christmas Eve.

Yes, Virginia, people are still sending holiday cards. And while many select cards with generic messages, preprinted signatures and computer-generated address labels, others are taking extraordinary care to create unique cards for their friends and loved ones.

For the past 25 years, Bruce Gee has been crafting his own custom-designed cards, with photos and prose chronicling his life — from meeting his wife Jane to their marriage, the birth of their children and their family life in Palo Alto. He does it because it's fun, creative and he wants to send something memorable.

"I hope when you open our card, you don't just look at it and throw it away. A lot of our friends keep our cards from every year," he said.

Gee got started with his tradition when he was late sending cards one year.

"I thought it would be funny to do a 'David Letterman Top Ten Reasons Why This Card is Late' and make a card where you pulled down the tab to reveal each reason one by one," he said.

"When you got to the end, it said, '#1 I wanted to see if I would get a card from you first!'"

Originally Gee thought he would save money making the cards himself instead of buying them, but as the cards have become more elaborate and he has become more invested in the hobby, this has proven not to be the case. Over the years he has spent both countless hours and dollars designing the cards, buying custom die-cut machines and other tools to produce these works of art. Among his collection are pop-up cards, cards with intricate cutouts shaped like carolers and nutcrackers, and origami that transform into houses or ornaments.

And Gee isn't the only one taking the time to make custom cards. Every year Paper Source in Town & Country Village in Palo Alto holds workshops for its customers who want to craft their own greetings.

"People like to show that they're creative. They like that sense of accomplishment," said Evelyn Herrero, who has worked at Paper Source for the past two holiday seasons.

Herrero, too, makes her own cards. "I do it because I love doing art. It's therapy. It's relaxing and clears the mind," she said. "People really love that they mean enough to you to make something so special for them."

Carol Goldfield of Palo Alto doesn't handcraft her cards, but she does add a personal touch. She has been sending out Christmas cards since she was in college, but after her son was born, she began sending photo cards. "I usually write a one-line personal note in each card, and for friends I rarely see, I enclose a longer, personal, typed letter — not a form letter," she said.

"I probably get fewer cards now than in the past, but not considerably fewer. I definitely am receiving more e-cards. Social media has affected card sending because now we post so much of our news and photos on Facebook so that even far-away friends know what's going on in our lives on a weekly basis."

Kitty Woo, co-owner of PaperWhirl on University Avenue in Palo Alto, has been in business for 32 years. She's has noticed that people are sending fewer cards, although she still has regular customers who order personalized, custom cards, especially photo cards featuring children and pets. She sends annual holiday cards, but she prefers Chinese New Year or Valentine's Day for the occasions of her greetings. Woo knows that people are sending more virtual greetings, but she doesn't think printed cards will ever be completely replaced.

"People still love receiving a card," she said. "To get something in the mail is very different than getting something online."

Gee agrees. Even though he is getting more e-cards, he responds with a one-of-a-kind, hand-created greeting. He said, "It's something we're known for now and people look forward to. They're always wondering, 'What will the Gee family do next year?'"

Freelance writer Kathy Cordova can be emailed at khcordova@gmail.com.

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