Lisa Casal-Galietta of Farmingville began making cards on a whim. What started as an artistic outlet during the pandemic has turned into an Etsy shop.  Credit: Randee Daddona

’Tis yet another season of social distance and Zoom, and printed Christmas cards are undergoing a renaissance.

The 177-year-old tradition of sending preprinted Yuletide greetings is booming during the coronavirus pandemic, buoyed by a festering desire to connect with one another while isolated.

"I never was one to send Christmas cards, but I definitely feel like this year, more than ever, I’m making special cards for people, because I want to make my family feel special and be connected," said Lisa Casal-Galietta, 42, of Farmingville. "I’m not able to be connected with them physically."

Greeting card sales are up. Consumers say cards are more meaningful than before. Some local post offices are running out of stamps as sales surge. Card makers have taken notice.

A card from American Greetings, with a nod to the pandemic, shows...

A card from American Greetings, with a nod to the pandemic, shows Santa Claus in an online video chat with his reindeer. Credit: American Greetings

American Greetings, one of the world’s biggest card makers, has added a "Happiness Can’t Be Quarantined" line of pandemic-themed Christmas cards showing how Santa Claus is coming to town during a pandemic: His nose and mouth are covered with a green mask. He’s approaching a snow-covered roof, a sign hanging on the chimney: "LEAVE GIFTS HERE! (SOCIAL DISTANCING OBSERVED.)" He’s seated at a computer and videoconferencing with his reindeer: "I miss you all DEERly!"

"I think that consumers, many of whom can’t be together this holiday season, feel like the next best thing is a card. A card has a level of emotion and a level of thought that goes into it. We all send texts. We all post on Facebook. We all send email," said Kelly Ricker, the company’s chief creative officer, but, she added: "when times are tough, getting a card from a friend or loved one can be really meaningful, more so than a text."

Ricker said the company has so far seen stronger sales this year than last — and some consumers do last-minute card shopping in the days leading up to Christmas. She declined to give specific sales figures.

Hallmark spokeswoman JiaoJiao Shen declined to discuss sales figures but said a company-commissioned survey found that 60% of respondents thought cards were more meaningful than other forms of communication, compared with 44% a year ago, and 76% said a card’s impact is worth the time it takes to write a message and send a card, compared with 67% a year ago.

Consumers plan to spend more in 2020 on holiday greeting cards and postage — $46.84 — than in 2019, $43.91, according to Danielle Inman of the National Retail Federation.

Nora Weiser, executive director of the Greeting Card Association — yes, Virginia, there is a greeting card lobby — said "we are seeing earlier purchases of Christmas cards this year," and since the trend in recent years had been for later-in-the-season sales, "the early strong sales this holiday season bodes well."

The first mass-produced Christmas card dates to 1843, when Sir Henry Cole commissioned an artist to make 1,000 engraved cards, depicting "a prosperous-looking family toasting the holidays, flanked on both sides by images of kindly souls engaging in acts of charity," according to a 2015 history of the genre.

In 2019, Americans bought approximately 6.5 billion cards, including 1.3 billion for Christmas, according to Weiser.

Lisa Casal-Galietta stamps her logo on the back of one of...

Lisa Casal-Galietta stamps her logo on the back of one of the handmade Christmas cards she plans to sell on Etsy.   Credit: Randee Daddona

Casal-Galietta said she started sending Christmas cards in 2019, but this year she's sent double the number while the pandemic restrictions limited how much she could see friends and family. And when she lost her job as a violin performer and teacher due to the lockdown, she opened up an online Etsy shop selling handmade cards to make ends meet. Her bestselling items are Christmas cards, she said.

Angela Skudin, owner of the Codfish Cowboy gift shop in Long Beach, said "our greeting card sales are through the roof," particularly individual cards as opposed to boxed sets in past years.

"It's a much more expressive way for the consumer to shop," she said. "But I guess when you haven't seen people in so long, you're trying everything you can to make a personal connection."

Weiser said that although, nationwide, there has been a decrease in sales due to reduced mobility in the pandemic, "We have also seen unprecedented increases in online purchases of cards," with an uptick at grocery stores and other retailers deemed essential.

Kim Frum, a spokeswoman for the United States Postal Service, said the nation’s mail system is experiencing "a historic record of holiday volume," and in the past several months, "significantly higher stamp sales" through its fulfillment services.

Frum said the Postal Service does not disclose historical stamp sales figures. Yuletide stamps offered this year, which like others for a first-class letter, cost 55 cents, depict holly, Santa Claus, Christmas trees and Rudolph, along with more overtly religious symbols like Our Lady of Guápulo and the Florentine Madonna and Child.

Elaine and Robert Aaron decided this year to forgo their annual...

Elaine and Robert Aaron decided this year to forgo their annual tradition of sending customized Christmas cards and instead bought multiple boxes of cards at CVS.   Credit: Courtesy Aaron family

In any other year, Elaine Aaron, 72, and her husband, Robert, 78, of Hicksville, would send out customized Christmas cards, picturing their four grandchildren in Connecticut and New Jersey, to friends and family.

"This year, we didn’t see our grandchildren, so my husband had to run out and get Hallmark boxes of cards," she said. He picked up five boxes on the first trip at CVS — and he had to go back to get two more after their initial boxes were depleted.

The ritual of writing 70 cards provided a measure of catharsis and comfort in times of a pandemic that have proven so isolating.

"We don’t have much normal going on," Elaine Aaron said, "but at least that was normal for us."

But what to write in a monotonous year of staying indoors, avoiding gatherings and maintaining social distance?

"It was so much work," she said, "because there was nothing going on."

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