In late October, Megan Sim, 28, who owns an online greeting card shop called Saucy Avocado, noticed her average order size was bigger than usual.
Ms. Sim typically sells a card or two per customer in the run-up to the holidays. But this year, her coronavirus-themed greetings — featuring hazmat suits, Zoom references and wishful lines about vaccines — have been selling in bulk.
“A lot of my customers say they’re getting ready to ship cards out to all of their loved ones,” Ms. Sim said. “It’s sweet and heartbreaking at the same time.”
After months of curtailed travel and socializing, many people remain frustratingly distant from friends and family. Sixty-one percent of Americans changed their Thanksgiving plans this year, scaling back large gatherings or forgoing in-person dinners completely, according to a November survey by Axios-Ipsos.
An October survey by Enksy, an online crafts marketplace, found that 46 percent of respondents planned to send physical cards this season, with the number jumping to 62 percent for respondents who are avoiding in-person gatherings.
Card makers, like Hallmark and Paper Source, are reaping the benefits and reporting rising sales.
For the greeting card industry, which has slumped for decades, it’s a significant turnaround. When all we want for Christmas is to be together, sending a cheeky card can be the next best thing.
There are plenty to choose from: Hallmark debuted a pandemic-themed “Appreciation Station” of cards to express gratitude for nurses, mail carriers and doctors. Winnie Park, the C.E.O. of Paper Source, estimated that just shy of 10 percent of the company’s Christmas cards have pandemic themes. Her favorite is the “Zoom Santa,” portrayed in a video chat with his elves, sans pants.
“Humor is a big element for us,” Ms. Park said. “With Covid it’s been like the stages of grief. The humor feels appropriate because people have been in this for so long.”
Many card makers began producing pandemic-themed cards in March, and have seen sales creep up as the virus — and its attending isolation — dragged on. At Paper Source, bulk orders are on the rise. “It’s a shift in behavior,” Ms. Park said. “More people are taking the time to send cards and tell people, ‘I care about you.’”
Victoria Feargrieve, 29, an Etsy shop owner in London, started making Covid-19-themed cards during the first lockdown in Britain. She said that about three-quarters of her orders now are bulk orders for 10 or more of the same card.
“The pandemic definitely makes people want to connect,” she said. “Sending a card is more personal than sending an email or text.”
In late April and early May, Hallmark’s trend experts conducted a poll on the value of greeting cards versus text or email during the pandemic. Sixty percent of respondents said cards packed a bigger punch.
“Now put yourself in the holiday season after a long year,” said Lindsey Roy, the chief marketing officer of Hallmark. “You’re starting to get those cold dark winter days. Man, talk about needing connections.”
Some designers, watching the death toll from Covid-19 rise, were hesitant to capitalize on the pandemic in their work. “On Etsy in particular, when there are social issues going on, people tend to jump in them quickly. But this felt heavy,” said Jen Diehl, 39, who makes handcrafted cards, signs and wine labels through her company the Ritzy Rose.
By late spring, however, she realized demand for pandemic-themed cards was there, and she made Mother’s Day cards with Covid-19 messaging. Their sales were much higher than her 2019 Mother’s Day cards.
So for the holidays, she put masks on many of her standard designs, which feature baby animals, astronauts and Santa. Packs of 24 cards are her best sellers this year, she said.
“We’re all burned out from Zoom and screen time,” she said. “Putting something in the mail is more important than ever.”
Verna Starling, 42, who runs Honest AF Cards, a wry and often crass line out of Houston, began creating pandemic-themed designs to reflect her own reality.
In April she canceled a wedding trip. Then an international vacation. Soon, she was making a checklist of everything she had given up this year.
“We are all like, I can’t wait for 2021,” she said. “We won’t be able to have New Year’s celebrations. I wanted to create a card people can send because they may not be able to be with friends and family this year.”
To Ms. Park, the swell in card sales is cause for optimism after a year of division and isolation.
“It shows we value connection, and we won’t take it for granted,” she said. “If that’s a silver lining coming out of this pandemic, then that’s a good one.