What's The Etiquette Of Taking Someone Off Your Christmas Card List?

An expert shares how to handle the predicament.

christmas card addressing stencil
Photo: Emily VanSchmus

With the holidays just around the corner, it's time to start thinking about the season's greetings you'll be mailing out to friends and family. The content of holiday cards generally changes year to year to reflect growing families, children, and pets, but for many people, the list of folks who receive them often does not. "Most people, out of habit, stick to the same 'holiday card list' they have used for years and sometimes decades, which is often outdated for one reason or another," says Diane Gottsman, international etiquette expert, author, and founder of the Protocol School of Texas. "Relationships change, friendships wane, and people (physically and literally) move on."

If your list hasn't been updated in several years, it may be time to reexamine it—and perhaps make a few cuts. Gottsman says booting someone from your mailing list is easier than you might think: "Unless they are very close friends or family, most people will not even notice."

That's for the best. While some types of omissions call for a mea culpa of sorts, the manners pro notes that this is one scenario where it's best not to draw attention to the change. "It's not necessary to tell someone that they have been omitted," says Gottsman.

But if someone does notice and goes so far as to ask why they didn't receive one, she offers a guilt-free way to respond. "It's not necessary to apologize or make up a long-winded excuse," she advises. "Smile, keep your tone upbeat, and stay focused on appearing friendly and polite. Cutting back on your holiday list does not make you a bad person."

Of course, if you think a skipped holiday card may hurt a specific person's feelings or drum up drama, it's probably best to just send season's greetings their way. "It's important to think about what the long term repercussions will be if you offend a particular person you have cut off the list," says the etiquette expert. "If it's a close family member or someone you have a regular relationship with, I recommend thinking twice before you remove them. If you have not spoken to them for years and aren't even sure of their correct address, you are probably safe to omit them."

Above all, remember that the holiday mailing list isn't permanent. "Just like friendships and other types of relationships, the card recipients can change from season to season," says Gottsman. "There are no rules that say you can't circle back another year if you choose."

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