When December rolls around, all those everyday to-do list items (make dentist appointment, pay parking ticket, buy milk) suddenly are joined by a host of other tasks that only show up once a year: hang lights, buy gifts, bake cookies, make 300 pigs-in-a-blanket for the office holiday party.
Oh, and send holiday cards.
In the hustle and bustle of December's obligations, the task of taking photos, ordering cards, buying stamps, collecting addresses and signing dozens (sometimes hundreds) of cards can seem insurmountable. Still, in a world in which most people receive emails by the bucketload, sending a digital greeting -- though certainly simpler -- doesn't deliver quite the same holiday cheer. And greeting cards aren't going anywhere; according to the Greeting Card Association, more than 2 billion boxed and individual holiday cards were sold in the U.S. last year.
But representatives of some of the web's top greeting card sites say a new trend has been emerging: cards that skip the traditional holiday greetings and move straight to New Year's. They say these cards add an extra week to the deadline for getting cards in the mail, and remove some of the awkwardness of finding a greeting that pleases everyone.
"This season, people are celebrating both early with Thanksgiving cards and late with New Year's cards," says Mariam Naficy, CEO and founder of stationery site Minted.com, which offers more than 100 New Year's designs. "We're seeing lots of growth in both of these categories."
At another popular card site, Tiny Prints, a similar movement is happening: "From Thanksgiving cards to New Year's cards, we're seeing the holiday season and the variety of card designs growing," says Laura Ching, the site's co-founder. Tiny Prints has more than 160 designs in its New Year's category this year. "Nontraditional trends are occurring in numerous ways."
But Naficy says the growth in cards that say "Happy New Year" isn't just about giving yourself a few extra days to stamp and seal.
"People began ordering their New Year's cards in early November, so it's not just a last-minute resort," she says. "People like this greeting because it takes political correctness out of the equation. 'Merry Christmas' or 'Happy Hanukkah' or 'Happy Holidays' or 'Happy Kwanzaa' can get quite complicated."
Like it or not, everyone is welcoming a new year in January, and for many, that's a cause to celebrate.
"New Year's is a time to start fresh and wish family and friends well," says Meg Bohnert, card stylist for photo card website Shutterfly, which offers more than 70 New Year's-appropriate card designs. "It's an optimistic time for many and they want to express that in their holiday card and greeting."
Ching says New Year's cards are the perfect opportunity to really sum up the year, including those photos of little Madison opening her holiday gifts.
"New Year cards no longer mean that someone was late getting out their holiday cards," Ching says. "Sending a New Year card has become a welcome way to allow a family's card to stand out from the pack, recap the year in its entirety and share your New Year's resolutions."
And while those are all good reasons to switch to a New Year's card, let's be honest: For a lot of people, a few extra days to work on the project are just too good to pass up.
"New Year's cards are a great way to relieve a lot of un-needed pressure that so many people feel during this insanely busy time of year," says Minted's Naficy. "Even if you have time to order your cards, you might not have time to address them and add a handwritten note until the day after Christmas, so it's not a bad idea to just plan on writing them then. ... We've seen a lot of people who totally miss the boat and send Valentine's cards."
Naficy suggests it's best to make your choice look intentional -- even if it isn't -- by using a "Happy New Year" greeting, and trying a different color palette, such as black, gold and silver.
But no matter when your cards go out, Bohnert says it's time to give yourself a break: "There is a lot of excitement over the holidays when opening up your mailbox filled with season's greetings, no matter the week."
"It truly is worth taking the time to create cards with feeling to celebrate and appreciate the special people in your life," agrees Tiny Prints' Ching. "Don't worry about the timing. Trust me, people are focused more on the contents of the card than the date it arrives."
Selecting a New Year's greeting
Choosing a New Year's greeting this year? Representatives of some of the top greeting-card websites offer suggestions to make your card stand out from the rest:
* Skip the traditional red and green or blue color scheme and try something unexpected. Black, gold and silver are always celebratory. Other popular color combos this year are citrus colors like orange and yellow; rainbow palettes; and pastels. "We're seeing great interest in neutrals -- combinations of gray and black with a pop of yellow," says Laura Ching, co-founder of Tiny Prints.
* Choose a greeting with a more general sentiment, instead of "Merry Christmas" or "Happy Holidays." It could simply be "Happy New Year," but other options include "Winter Wishes to You and Your Family," "Love and Cheer" and "Peace."
* Use this chance to recap the entire year, highlighting family milestones. And use snapshots from your holiday festivities to make the card truly up-to-the-minute.
* Embrace the New Year's theme in your photo by outfitting your clan in party hats or posing with sparklers or noisemakers.
* Or let your photos dictate your card choice. If you have a great photo of your family's summer beach trip, try a greeting that emphasizes "warm wishes."