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Sending holiday cheer: Etiquette expert details dos and don'ts of cards

FARGO — With Thanksgiving passed, the holiday season is fully underway. If you haven't received one already, your mailbox will no doubt start filling up with a stream of holiday cards from family and friends.

But how soon is "too soon" to send those greetings? Do you have to send something to everyone you've ever been friends with? What about electronic greetings — are they tacky or just incredibly cost effective and green?

Daniel Post Senning, a spokesperson for the Emily Post Institute (and the expert on all things etiquette-related), shared a few thoughts on the dos and don'ts associated with holiday cards.

What to do

• Time your card to arrive after Thanksgiving, but not the next day. Traditionally, you'll want your card to arrive by mid-December.

• Personalize your cards, if possible. While services exist to have cards mailed for you, if you are receiving the cards before mailing, Post Senning says a handwritten note is a great touch. Bonus points for mentioning something personal in the message to honor the relationship you have with the recipient. You could include funny sayings, quotes or religious verses — whatever is appropriate for you and the recipient. If you prefer to keep things less wordy, you could write statements like "wishing you joy," "warmest wishes," "making spirits bright," "love and peace to you this Christmas" or a number of other simple but sentimental signoffs.

• Consider changing your greeting if the recipient celebrates a different faith than you. Doing so makes the recipient aware that you've gone the extra mile to recognize the difference and want to honor the person and his or her beliefs.

• Tailor your delivery method to the recipient. Not everyone loves receiving a bevy of cards in the mail, but then again, not everyone will appreciate having an inbox flooded with electronic cards. Post Senning says electronic greetings can easily be missed or deleted, but if they are appropriate for the relationship, it's fine to send them that way. "You make more of an impression if you put something in someone's hands," he said. Keep in mind that physical holiday cards can still be thrown away once the holidays are over.

• Scale the undertaking to your resources and availability. If you're feeling busier than usual and don't have the time (or energy, or finances) to coordinate a professional photoshoot and order fancy cards, simplify it. In an article on Huffington Post, Shasta Nelson recommends a five Circles of Friends concept that tiers friendships according to intimacy level, starting with those people you are closest to. Then decide which tiers you are able to send a greeting, which can be just a brief but personal note.

What not to do

• Send cards out of obligation. Sometimes you receive a card from someone you didn't send one to. Don't be tempted to respond simply because you feel like you should. "It feels nice to be included, and etiquette is a good tool for self-improvement," Post Senning says. He recommends using the opportunity to add someone to a list in the future or to send unexpected greetings to other people. "If you feel inspired and want to pick up the phone to tell that person 'thank you for thinking of me,' that's great, too," he says. Keep in mind that continuing to send a card to someone from your past if they aren't in your present is not necessary.

• Overlook cards because we live in an age of electronic connectedness. While it's easy to think that the prevalence of social media has eradicated the need for sending holiday cards, that's not necessarily the case. In her article, Nelson writes that you shouldn't think about sending cards as being a focus on you and your family, but rather on making your family and friends feel loved and remembered.

• Provide boastful updates. While personal letters can be good, they often veer into the vain, describing family members in minute and unnecessary detail. "Keep the focus on the relationship and connection, and think about the tone of what is appropriate to share with the people you're connecting with," Post Senning says.

• Personally deliver cards to co-workers. While etiquette would seem to encourage personal delivery, the risk of offending someone who didn't receive a card requires mailing the greeting. "Practicality is the heart of good etiquette," Post Senning says. Depending on the office environment, handing out cards or leaving them on desks could infringe on HR policies. Plus, "it's nice to get something in the mail," he says.

• Make your last name possessive when you really want it to be plural. Some last names can be tricky to make plural (like Joneses, Dixes, or Perezes), but don't be tempted to add an apostrophe.

The most important thing to keep in mind about your greeting is what it will accomplish.

"Christmas cards are an opportunity, not an obligation, to grow and honor the relationships in our lives, and that's the best way to approach them," Post Senning says.

Danielle Teigen

Danielle Teigen is from South Dakota, but she headed north to attend North Dakota State University where she earned a bachelor's degree in journalism and management communication. She worked for Forum Communications first in 2007 as an intern and part-time reporter. Later, she served as editor for two local magazines before switching gears for marketing and public relations roles for an engineering firm and the chamber of commerce.  She returned to Forum Communications in May 2015 as a digital content manager and is currently the Deputy Editor.  She is originally from Turton, S.D., and is the author of "Hidden History of Fargo".

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