The Cultural Nuances of Holiday Greeting Cards Or, my way of wishing you Happy Holidays!
Last year, I spent Christmas eating lobster on my sailboat with a bunch of new sailor friends in the port of Mindelo, on the island of Sao Vicente, In Cape Verde. My husband had tried to create some holiday cheer by decorating our cockpit with some tinsel garlands and a star made of twigs on which plastic pine cones were glued. In the same spirit of the holidays, some Cape Verdeans shop owners hung up in their window fronts paper decorations of fat white Santa Clauses amid snowflakes and reindeers.
There is no snow in Cape Verde, nor are there pine trees. I found this culture clash disturbing, but have yet to find a name for it. What’s the opposite of cultural appropriation? Globalization, maybe? Western-washing?
Yet even in the “Western world,” cultural misplacements occur. Christmas is a good holiday to demonstrate that even among Western and Christian cultures, there are nuances to cultural practices. Allow me to demonstrate using the practice of holiday greeting cards.
In Canada (where I’m from), Christmas cards are usually sent out during the month of December to extended family members and friends. These cards are usually displayed in the home, effectively becoming part of the Christmas decorations.
At work, we send gifts to our main clients and cards to our partners and suppliers. E-cards are practical but don’t replace the more personal touch of a paper card. Cards are either bilingual or ordered in separate English/French batches. In them we write “Happy Holidays” or “Season’s Greetings” and “Happy New Year.” A card with a signature without a personal message is acceptable.
Americans usually send out Christmas E-cards, which are cheaper and save trees, to clients and partners. The design, which normally sticks to American Christmas and winter tropes, and planning of these greeting e-cards begins in November but delivery is usually aimed for the 15th of December. If religious greetings are included, they tend to cover as many denominations as possible: “Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, and a Happy New Year!”
A longer form, that would be the same in every card, could read:
“During this season, we take time to reflect upon the good things we have… like our partnership with you. We appreciate working with you and hope that the holidays and the coming year will bring you happiness and success.” (taken from Shutterfly)
The United Kingdom
When I lived and worked in the UK, I found that card giving was very important. Paper cards are by far preferred and the design is usually very Christmas-y, favoring red, gold and silver with images of packages, wreaths or a home’s warm hearth. Cards are sent out during the month of December before Christmas break; they are exchanged among employees the last day before Christmas holidays. The British put in a lot effort into personalizing cards (I once received a hand-written card thanking me for a particular marketing campaign conducted that year from a co-worker I suspected didn’t like me!) and advocate calling a cat a cat, so they wish “Merry Christmas.”
France is a whole different ballgame. It is both profoundly Catholic and secular, which means that even if practically all holidays originate from Catholicism, any religious expression in the workplace is frowned upon. A lot. This is why Muslim women cannot wear headscarves in public institutions, or why Catholic nuns can’t either. Their concept of “laïcité” is usually misunderstood by its world neighbors. In effect, it seeks to avoid ostentatious signs of religion in order to protect the person from religious discrimination, therefore maintaining their rights to equality.
When Christmas time rolls around, the French do not send out Christmas cards. At most, they might wish someone “Happy holidays” at the bottom of an email or as a farewell greeting on the phone. Instead, the French send out Happy New Year cards to partners and clients throughout the month of January, concentrating their message on the year to come rather than being thankful for the year past.
In my experience of all these cultures, gifts may be given to valued customers and partners – though they are not accepted by those who work for public institutions. Gift giving is a big part of Christmas, but taking advantage of this aspect for commercialization purposes – especially in business – is frowned upon by the more traditional cultures of Europe and Canada. Just this week, an English contact of mine commented on LinkedIn that “(…) anyone trying to sneak a discount or a special offer into a Christmas e-card (eg random recruitment companies) is now getting blocked.”
Christmas as Marketing
In business, sending out Christmas or New Year’s greeting cards is usually a marketing activity. It’s what’s called a touch point. But that doesn’t mean there are not true feelings of gratitude and kinship behind them.
In my experience, employees will usually use whatever design or shape of card that marketing provides. It’s only in the UK where I saw employees go out and buy their own cards (and then expense them) to be sure they get their hand-written messages out to their contacts on time, before Christmas.
What I do…
I have friends and contacts in all these countries, so I designed and sent our my greeting cards with these cultural differences in mind. The one with the Christmas decorations is the most Christmas-y, so that is the design I mostly sent to England. The snowflake is the most secular, so I have been saving those to send out to France in January. I sent out my North-America-bound cards first, because of postal delays and to ensure reception at least a week before Christmas. My UK-bound cards were sent out Monday.
Anybody who knows me knows that I love Christmas. I love giving because it makes me happy. I love the values of goodness and generosity that are at the heart of this holiday. My year has been epic and I am extremely grateful. In addition to crossing the Atlantic in a sailboat, I have launched the Julius Communication web site and this blog, I have been working on mandates that I enjoy and have been writing consistently.
Happy holidays to you all!
I would like to end this post by thanking you, dear reader, for visiting my blog and reading my words.
I wish you a wonderful holiday season and a great New Year. May 2018 be a year of reaching goals, living dreams, and loving it all.
Photo of Christmas balls by Alisa Anton on Unsplash
Photo of winter street lantern by Hide Obara on Unsplash
Photo of snowflake by Aaron Burden on Unsplash
Photo of lights in the shape of a tree by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash