by Kim Wadsworth
Greeting-card retailers and companies catering to curated gift boxes and thematic experiences are expecting a boom during this socially distanced holiday season.
We’ve learned some valuable skills throughout this pandemic year, especially when it comes to finding novel ways to connect while socially distant. In a perfect world, we’d gather with family and friends to celebrate the holiday season, but many are opting not to visit each other for fear of spreading the virus. So, how can we connect and show our gratitude to those we love during a year of so many unknowns?
We say use this shelter-at-home opportunity to reach out and touch someone snail-mail style through a thoughtful note or unique gift.
Holiday cards have always been one of the most traditional touchstones, but they’ve lost favor in recent years. According to Shutterfly.com, there’s been a resurgence of custom greeting cards and gifts. “A personalized card or package from afar can lift spirits and ensure loved ones know you’re thinking of them,” the website says. Ideas include everything from a puzzle of a favorite family photo to a personalized photo mug that could be paired with a bag of locally sourced coffee.
And while companies like Hallmark and Paper Source are seeing a substantial rise in holiday-card purchases, it’s easy to write off the idea when eyeing a big stack of uncompleted correspondences in front of you. The Emily Post Institute in Burlington, Vermont, suggests creating an at-home tradition of writing cards as a family. Assign tasks to each person, whether it’s envelope addressing, rubber-stamping and affixing fun holiday stamps or writing meaningful sentiments.
“Make it a party,” notes the website. “When everyone is finished, offer hot cider and pumpkin bread. The kids are involved, the cards are done and the family has had time to be together and talk about the holidays.”
According to The Wall Street Journal, one holiday item that is already sold out is shipping capacity. This means consumers will wait longer for deliveries during the season as companies like UPS, FedEx and the U.S. Postal Service work through backlogs in a race to get mail and packages to doors before Christmas. So, get an early start compiling and organizing your card and gift list to guarantee that loved ones near and far receive them in a timely fashion.
Let working from home become giving from home when in-person shopping doesn’t feel comfortable. Consider a gift of art and culture in the form of a subscription or membership. A year of the Disney Channel or Netflix could be a big hit. A family membership to a botanical garden or zoo guarantees a year of memorable outdoor excursions. Even a virtual nature or travel experience could be an unexpected surprise; NatureConnectionGuide.com offers forest-therapy programs and Airbnb has virtual services and unique, host-led activities starting at $10 a person.
“Virtual giving has taken a new attitude due to the coronavirus,” says Sara Andrews of Wanderful Boxes in Virginia Beach. “Gift giving is shifting into many novel forms as the holidays approach.”
Her shop’s specially curated gift boxes are tailored to their recipients. Cards are a big seller with messages like “So thankful for you” and “You make me smile.” Andrews suggests following these easy principles when choosing contents: useful basics (soap, hand cream, tea), keepsake treasures (mugs, candles, catch-all dish) and treats sweet and savory (chocolate, cookies, nuts).
“Make them boxed memories and craft a message of intention, especially if you aren’t able to see loved ones,” she says.
Companies are also taking an innovative approach to employee gifting, Andrew says, and the old-fashioned “care package” has taken on a new meaning. A local firm recently ordered 100 boxes filled with a keepsake and a recipe for pumpkin bread with pre-measured specialty ingredients. Employees will participate in a virtual baking party at a designated time, bringing everyone together in lieu of the yearly holiday cocktail party.
Laura Slaymaker, owner of Serendip in Norfolk, says there’s been a return to simpler things like nature-themed gifts. Big sellers include wreaths, ornaments and edible birdhouses (all made of seeds) for recipients to hang on trees. “People are really into the holidays and planning the decor of their homes and tables well in advance,” says Slaymaker. “This is one aspect of their lives that they can control and feel safe doing.”
Also on the uptick are sales of pandemic-themed cards and calendars. Popular ones at Serendip include: “You’re so hot when you wear a mask,” “Pants optional, mask mandatory,” and “All I want for Christmas is a hug from you.” Slaymaker believes spreading kindness and generosity is synonymous with the spirit of giving.
“Gratitude is the theme of the season and spreading those sentiments brings joy to everyone.”
Kim Wadsworth has been a source of etiquette protocol for 20 years. Her company, Southern Charming, offers consulting on communication and social skills essential to personal and professional success.