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I'm sending holiday greeting cards for the first time to friends, among whom some live with their partners (unmarried). I am not friends with their partners but consider myself on good terms with them, i.e. we are friendly acquaintances or friends by association. There are also some friends who live with their parents and siblings, where my relationship with them does not extend beyond a simple greeting and idle chit-chat when we see each other.

There are sources, like this one, that explain HOW to address groups of people, but I'd like to know the etiquette on when one should do so versus just address the friend.

For couples, I'm inclined to just address both people, as leaving one person out seems rude. But given that there is no direct relationship between my friends' partners and me, I was not sure if it would be awkward to address them. For families, I'm inclined to just address the friend (unless there's a relationship with the entire family).

This is in the United States, and cards are sent on my own behalf (i.e. not a family's or a partner's behalf).

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I've been sending cards for over 30 years now and have yet to have anyone be angry with how I do it (except my wife for making her help...) so perhaps I can give some perspective.

You're sending cards to the people that matter to you - let's start with that premise.

You are right that you don't need to send cards to the parents/families - unless you have a strong relationship with them. Looking at your question, I think we both agree on that.

On to the significant other. I've typically include the SO in the cards and that's been appreciated. It sends a message that you approve of the relationship and consider them both as friends of yours. I believe you are right in the assumption that leaving one out would seem rude. The only way I could imagine not including the SO would be if you never met. Then you'd be sending a card to someone you don't know, which would be odd.

Really, the most important thing to know is: it's really hard to mess this task up. People appreciate being thought of and a holiday card is a nice way to show that.

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    For the SO, I think this point of yours is particularly relevant when you and your friend are opposite genders. Nice to imply that their bond is such that they're a unit to a third party.
    – Euchris
    Nov 29 '20 at 14:30
  • @Euchris: that hadn't even entered into my mind, but you make an excellent point. It also helps put the SO at ease that you aren't competing for the affections of the friend and you see them as a couple. Thanks for the feedback! Nov 29 '20 at 15:46
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    Mostly agreed, though you may want to make sure the couple is still together if you haven't spoken to the friend in a bit. A relative of mine sent a Christmas card addressed to me and my recently-ex-husband, which kinda sucked.
    – Kat
    Nov 30 '20 at 1:27
  • @Kat: yes, that is one way to mess this task up. Sorry to hear that! I'd "boo" that, but I wouldn't want to have that be misinterpreted as downvoting the information provided. I agree it's important to make sure you're not opening wounds when sending holiday greetings! Nov 30 '20 at 1:34
  • @Kat after a couple of years I still got one or two of those (from people who only just made the card list in the first place, not anyone I know well)
    – Chris H
    Nov 30 '20 at 15:23
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If you are sending the card to their home, inside mention everyone who lives in the home. That includes not only their partner but their children if you know of them. You don't have to write a personalized sentence to someone you've never met, but just include them:

To Steve and Mary,

instead of just

To Steve

If there are people whose names you don't know, you can be vague at the beginning:

To Steve, Mary, and family,

or

To Steve and family,

or open with just the ones whose names you know and where you sign your name put something like "all the best to your parents also" or "your children also" or whoever you want to acknowledge but don't know the name of.

If you are giving the card to the person at work or school, rather than mailing it to them, then including the partner is optional if you've never met them, but is always nice. Nobody is going to be offended that you mentioned a family member but they might be offended that you left one out.

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    I accepted the other answer as it was just a smidge more applicable to my current circumstances but this advice was also very helpful, and I'll definitely keep this in mind in future years! +1 for multiple ways to address them - thank you so much!
    – eurieka
    Nov 29 '20 at 4:21
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The other two answers are great, but I'd like to add one thing: if you aren't regularly in touch with the recipient of the card, make sure everyone you're addressing the card to is still in the family (and alive, for that matter). Especially this year, a lot of people have lost loved ones or split under the pressure of everything going on. I'm sure your intention is for your card to bring joy, and getting a card addressed to you and your ex can put a real damper on that (speaking from personal experience). I can only imagine getting a card also addressed to someone you care about and who recently passed.

Other than that, don't overthink it! Unless there's been some kind of history of you disapproving of their loved ones, most people aren't likely to care exactly how the card is addressed. If you address it to the entire household, they'll realize you're being polite. If you don't, they aren't likely to take offense to it.

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