Holiday Cards: How “Smug” Are They (And Which Colleagues Do You Send Them To)?

professional-family-holiday-cards2017 Update: We still stand by this advice on professional family holiday cards, but you may also want to check out all of our posts on holiday business etiquette.

As if holiday cards weren’t already enough of a minefield professionally, I’ve now seen tons of people (mostly single and childless friends) talking on Facebook about how “smug” all of the family holiday cards are as they tout our “perfect” families. So I thought we’d talk about it — perhaps a bit belatedly, but it’s on my mind, and we’ve probably all seen the full range of what our friends and family sent this time around.

Do you create and send photo cards to your friends and family? Do you send the same version to coworkers and colleagues? Do you worry about intentionally sending DIFFERENT cards to people on your list who don’t have kids? (And, just for old times’ sake: Are religious holiday cards inappropriate for most coworkers/colleagues — or at least a KYO (know your office) situation?

Here at Casa Griffin, we’ve done photo holiday cards for a few years now, and I love receiving cards from my friends and family in return. We display them proudly, strung across some ribbons, and one of my favorite parts of the season is seeing everyone’s cards, their pictures, their families.

As soon as we started sending picture cards, it made me wonder: Who the heck do I send these to, professionally? I had usually sent holiday cards (regular store-bought ones) to old mentors and new friends (fellow bloggers, ad network people, old legal friends, etc.), but personal photo cards felt inappropriate, particularly since the recipients didn’t KNOW my kids or my husband. On the flip side, I worried it might be perceived as insulting to send a “regular” card and then later be found out as someone who had picture holiday cards — as in, we only send the “good” cards to friends and family. I also worried about sending photo cards to friends I knew were struggling with fertility issues, because I didn’t want to make them feel bad with my card (“Hey, look at my family with two adorable children!”), but again, I didn’t want them to find out I HADN’T sent them a photo card and feel even worse.

I’m not sure I’ve dealt with things appropriately: We’ve just sent the family-photo card to people whom we thought cared about our family (whether professional contacts or not, whether they have kids or not), and to the others… well, I haven’t quite gotten around to sending the other cards, reasoning with myself that sending holiday cards is a declining practice anyway.

On the “smug” point — I’ll admit, I can see where people are coming from. I suppose I think there’s a spectrum of smugness, with “just pictures of the kids” on one end of the spectrum, to “we hired a photographer to stage magazine-worthy photos of our family” on the other side. The less “real” someone’s pictures look, the more airbrushed — the more smug they seem, at least to me. (A related issue: how about the letters that tout the family’s trips, travels, and accomplishments? One of my friends manages the family budget very carefully so they can travel extensively, but with other friends it can sometimes add to the “smug” factor.)

Readers, what are your thoughts?



  1. I hang one of our family photo holiday cards outside my office during the season. People can stop and look at my family photos if they would like, but I’m not shoving it in people’s face either. If I am giving anyone at work or with whom I have a professional relationship, I use more generic, secular holiday cards.

  2. We have not done family holiday cards. Because our first child is deceased, family photos are a very emotional topic. This year we sent some newborn photos of our second child to aunties and grandparents, but that was it. I keep photos on my phone to share with colleagues and clients when asked.

    I haven’t, however, been offended by receiving family photo cards from friends, even though they can be emotional for me. I would never dream of sending a family photo card to my colleagues or clients.

    I order professional ones that I send to clients and professional contacts. They are religious in nature because I work for a faith-based not-for-profit. If I were not in a religious organization, I would save my religious cards for family and friends and remain silent on the topic in the professional world.

    • We loss our newborn son to an inoperable congenital heart defect this year, and I’m struggling with holiday cards/family pictures, too. Our first child is an adorable toddler, and I want to share her (honestly, I want to share pictures of our son, too), but I’m not sure how to accomplish this without excluding him or seeming morbid. As for future years… Who knows. My parents stopped sending out cards a few years ago after losing my brother. But I don’t want to miss out on this tradition, especially as my daughter grows up. I’ve been thinking about wearing a locket with our son’s picture in family portraits and incorporating a symbol or his initial into our family’s signature somehow, but again, this is all pretty new.

      (Also, lots of love OP. This is the crappyist club to belong to.)

      • I am so sorry about your loss. I love the idea of doing something to keep his memory and presence in your family pictures. You could also consider one of those wooden initials or a heart pillow or something like that that you would include in your family portrait year after year. If I was a friend or family seeing your picture and knowing what that meant, I would find it very touching and it would help me keep your son in my memory as well.

  3. I love getting photo cards from friends and family because I know that those awesome photos they send me on the card probably took hours to get :)
    I don’t send out my own cards however because I am jewish. But I have thought about sending out happy new year cards.

    • They make generic non-religious holiday cards. I run a business and we sent out “Peace and Joy of the season to you” with a picture of a snowflake to all our business contacts and clients.

      I also sent photo cards to my friends and family.

      I love getting photo cards from other families! I love seeing their kids all dressed up (or action shots too) and growing up each year. I don’t think it’s smug at all. If you’re really upset by other people’s happiness, then you have problems. I love the happiness that my loved ones show me by sending me their cards.

  4. I love receiving cards and seeing pictures of all of my friends, whether with kids or without. We started sending holiday cards after we were married – for the first few years they pictured us in whatever exotic (or not) locales we had visited that year. Once the kids came long, they got added. I did have a comment from a friend this year saying she really liked that our card showed our whole family, not just our kids. I agree with that as I want to see my friends, not just their kids. We send cards to all of our family and friends (even if they’re not Christian) and usually say Happy Holidays. One of my Jewish friends from college who I barely stay in touch with actually reached out to me with his new address this year because he loves getting my card every year. I have two sets of professional contacts who get our family card – ones who are friends but happen to be clients as well (former colleagues from my pre-law school job) and attorneys/former attorneys at my firm who I am close to, especially since many are in other cities. These are all people who have known me through having my babies and regularly ask about my kids, so I know they like seeing pictures of them. We used to do a separate letter with our card, but now just use the back of the card for a quick highlight of what we did that year. Yes, it can be braggy, but I love reading what others send, and I think the majority of the people who receive them love it too. I think it’s the small minority who don’t like it and they just can skip it if it bothers them all that much. It’s more important to me to stay connected with my friends and family all over the world and continue a tradition that I enjoy.

  5. CPA Lady says:

    Asking if holiday cards sent by people with kids are “smug” seems like a bit of an inflammatory “us vs. them” question… honestly the only cards/behaviors/facebook posts I think are “smug” are those from people I already don’t really like and think are smug in general.

    For instance, I knew a girl in college who was very smug, and so everything she has done since– gotten married, had kids, etc. has come across as smug. I’m sure if she sent me any holiday card it would seem smug. But I think that’s more a reflection on me and what I think about her than it is on her. If someone I liked sent the exact same card I probably wouldn’t find it smug.

    As far as my own habits go, I’ve always sent cards only to friends and family, usually funny ones. This is the first year I’ve had a kid, and the first year I’ve sent out photo cards. I took the photo on my phone and just did ones from shutterfly. I only sent them out to immediate family members and very close friends. The picture on the front of the card was my daughter, and on the back there was a picture of my husband and me.

    • CPA Lady says:

      Also, in general, I have always loved getting cards from anyone with anything on them, including pictures of their dogs, children, themselves, whatever. I just love getting real mail that isn’t a bill or something else boring.

    • +1 on the definition of smug – all about who is sending rather than a general perception.

    • Exactly on the “smug” thing. Those who are bothered by others happy news, happy posts on social media, and happy looking cards generally have something else going on that bothers them. Either they are unhappy or unsatisfied in their own lives or have reason to judge the other person as smug (sometimes deserved, sometimes not). To me its not a reason not to share the positive in our lives.

      The whole concept that sharing happy times and pictures is “bragging” is ridiculous to me. Portraits and photo albums have always been about sharing our best side, well before social media and holiday cards.

  6. Newly pregnant says:

    I love sending and receiving holiday photo cards. We typically feature us and our dog. I love putting my dog front and center because she’s adorable. Post-baby, we’ll continue to do the same. I don’t use photo cards for people where we’re including a monetary gift, like building staff, because that seems awkward. I would never use a holiday photo card for professional purposes.

    I don’t find anything smug about professional photo holiday cards (or cards that show vacations, etc.) – that assumes a desire to sort of rub your happiness in other people’s faces – and I don’t think anyone (or at least anyone I know) is trying to do that. I just assume that people who spend the money on professional photos probably want professional photos of their family, and the holidays were as good a time to do them as ever. And if my friends got to go on an awesome trip, I’d be happy for them.

    • Tunnel says:


    • Agree. The purpose is to share what’s going on in your life with others. Since when did we get to a point that sharing happy moments (whether on FB or on a card) is “smug”? No one should assume every moment of someone else’s life is happy. If seeing another person happy is that bothersome its more about the recipient and their general feelings for the sender/poster.

      We send family picture cards to mostly friends and a few of my immediate team members/boss, mainly because my boss sends me one his of his family. We all work remotely so its nice to have a bit of a personal connection. For clients we have a corporate card I may or may not send.

      As for posed/professional pictures, that feels like an unfair judgement to me. Photography is a hobby of mine so I try to get a great family photo once a year for this purpose. I’m actually more annoyed when people send cards with really crappy pictures (horrible lighting, too dark to see the faces, glare, I don’t care if kids are perfectly behaved looking). If you are going to send out one picture a year why not make the effort to get a decent one so I can enjoy it. Doesn’t need to be professional just viewable. But that’s often grandparents so maybe more of a technology thing.

  7. hoola hoopa says:

    I’m also put off by the premise that family holiday cards are smug. Is my friend who’s card/note is about a half-dozen international vacations being smug? No, she’s sharing her life and year with people that she cares about, and so am I.

    I love giving and receiving cards, so yes, we do it. Sent cards pre-kids, too, although not photo cards. Even people who don’t send cards make an effort to tell me that they appreciate them, so maybe you need new friends if they are being negative about yours.

    I do not give our family card to colleagues, although we do have a handful of colleagues-who-are-also-actual-friends who do receive cards – but because they are friends. If I have a reason to give a card to a colleague, then it’s a generic card.

    I favor New Years cards because (a) totally inclusive, (b) better represents my sentiments during the season, and (c) I can be a bit late.

    • This sums up my thoughts perfectly. We do holiday cards (and the past two years have just been pictures of the kids simply because it’s easier to get pictures of two people looking at the camera than all four of us) and I love receiving everyone else’s. If someone thinks that it’s smug that I send pictures of my kids, that’s his or her problem, not mine.

      I don’t send picture cards to purely professional contacts, but I do send to family and friends who are professional contacts.

  8. My deal at work is I prop one of our cards (usually just a picture of our son) up on my desk facing out. That way people can see it when they stop by.

    I also share an assistant with most of the people I work with, so I just send her one and she tapes it up at her work station along with the other photo cards from everyone else we work with.

    (P.S. I have this awesome girlfriend who’s single, no kids. She sent the most amazing photo card this year that was like a dozen photos of her doing all kinds of cool stuff that’s impossible to do with kids. Like, her on an awesome ski trip, taking a nap on the beach, drinking margaritas on a boat, going to some black tie party, etc. I’m a little jealous of her card!!)

  9. Anonyc says:
  10. Burgher says:

    We have sent out photo cards to family & friends since we got married. I don’t generally send any holiday cards to coworkers unless I consider them a friend. Pre-kid, we included the nicest candid shot of the two of us from the previous year. Post-kid, we have only included pictures of our child, because we always have recent professional photos of him that have been taken by my sister. I’m super lucky to get free professional photos several times a year!

  11. I would say know your office. My first holiday with my law firm I was shocked to receive literally dozens of photocards at the holidays from my colleagues. It is sort of a “thing” at my firm — many of the attorneys (name partners on down) send family photocards to all the attorneys at the firm, or a large number (like, all the first years, etc.). So, the next year I made photocards too. I only send them to attorneys I’ve worked with (or wanted to) but that number grows every year. Last year I sent some photocards and some firm cards, depending on relationship, but this year I sent the same card to family, friends from law school, mentors/former bosses, and a client. I got positive feedback from the client — she wrote me and thanked me for the card, and thought our pic was great (it was a vacation picture). I think if you want to deepen your professional ties, family cards can actually be a nice touch. Maybe your client is a human (with family!), too. ;)

  12. never to the office says:

    I’ve never sent one to the office or coworkers. It’s just not that kind of culture here.

    For friends & family, we’ve done it some years, and fallen totally behind others. The last couple years, I pulled it all together at the.very.last.minute: an organization we volunteer with holds a party for its kids. Santa comes & gives a present to each child. Kids get to sit with Santa, and one of the other group members takes professional photos (for free) for the families’ use. We got one good picture of the 4 of us with Santa last year, and the year before. I brought it into snapfish, and made a card. Other years, I just couldn’t get my act together at all. Cards really only go to family & close friends.

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