Cards are sent, especially at "holiday time" (Christmas, New Years, and Hanukkah), with varying levels of intent based on the level of relationship. While some people send such "seasonal greetings" as a matter of course, others see it as an intimate act of friendship, etc.

I know several people who hold the view that if a card is received, that it is an obligation to send one in return. This may be because they feel their failure to respond in kind would be a sign that they do not hold the relationship as importantly as does the other party, or it is merely "rude" to not respond to their gesture.

Is there any set "rule" on the necessity or obligation to send a return card in Anglo-Saxon culture (US, UK, Australia) or would a mere thank you suffice?


2 Answers 2


The only real answer to this is "no".

You're rarely (if ever) "required" to do anything for the purpose of courtesy, particularly in this day, when it's not in any way codified.

Otherwise, this is a matter of opinion. You will have some people say that it's best-practice and others say that it's personal preference and others still say to only send a card if you were already planning on it.

Anyone who tells me that I am required to spend money (because I have to buy a card and mail it) because someone did the same for me seems to have their priorities in a twist.

The simple fact is that some people choose to send cards while others choose not to. If you do not send cards and don't wish to then don't feel obligated to do so, regardless of the reason.

  • Perhaps you don't participate in that holiday.
  • Perhaps you can't afford it.
  • Perhaps you don't have time.
  • Perhaps you don't care about the person who sent the card.

If they really feel like you're "obligated" to send a card in return and you don't, it's their concern. They are the one with the notion that you're somehow indebted to them and, personally, that sort of tit-for-tat friend isn't someone I'd like to be friends with. Regardless, they can not expect you to feel the same way about this that they do.

That being said, if you don't send cards, it's nice to somehow get the message to them that you appreciated the card, particularly if you feel like it means a lot to them. But, even this isn't required.

Most of the people I know (in the US) don't send holiday cards any more... it's becoming a somewhat antiquated custom. I get the occasional "year in review" card or holiday card but only usually from older relatives.

Now, if you're doing this already - sending cards - and you don't have them on your list for some reason and you get a card from them, and you have an extra one, I say send them a card. It can be sort of disappointing to not get a card from a friend and then see that a common friend has a card in their home.


Where I live (Australia) there is an implicit expectation that cards are returned. Some people have Christmas card lists (I used to for years) and send out cards every year a few weeks before Christmas, to give people time to return them.

People often keep spare cards to send to any people they receive cards from who were not on the list (they are then added to the list). If someone doesn't return the card, they may be taken off the list for next year, or if they're in a closer circle, may remain on the list.

The same type of reciprocation is expected for birthdays. If a person remembers your birthday and gives you a card, there is that expectation that you return the card.

Are people ever confronted over non-reciprocation? Rarely. It's not, generally, something that a person is confronted over, the person will just be taken off the list.

These days, I do not give out cards at all. I receive hardly any cards because of this. I do receive some cards from close friends, for both Christmas and my birthday and never reciprocate. I do feel some guilt, but they love me enough that they continue to do so knowing I do not reciprocate. What I do with one friend is take her out to lunch occasionally to acknowledge I value the friendship.

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