Everything good, bad, and earnest about holiday cards now happens on Instagram

Sending you love and light—via the gram.
Sending you love and light—via the gram.
Image: Reuters/Jeenah Moon
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Another year’s end, another failure to send a holiday card recapping your year and wishing your friends health and happiness in the next. But fear not! No one really sends paper cards anymore—not when the earnestness, humblebrags, and well wishes of yesteryear’s holiday cards now play out on Instagram.

The longest-running Insta-tradition is best nine—also called top nine, depending on your hashtag preference. Using the website topnine.co (or its associated app and many imitators), users enter their account name and are emailed a three-by-three square post of their nine most-liked Instagram posts of the year. Best nine makes content out of your content, and shows that it’s not enough to get likes all year—you must also get likes for the likes you got. It’s also an opportunity to prove that pictures of your face (or baby, if you’re Chrissy Teigen) almost always performed better than pictures of your latte, sunset, or favorite meme. (It’s not that you’re vain; your followers just love you.)

Many use the top-nine tradition as an opportunity to reflect on their highs and lows, to thank their followers for a great year, and to state their goals for the next. Some skip the square format, and simply re-post their most-liked pictures in a multi-photo format. More low-key users might skip the top-nine outsourcing, and instead post a #tbt or high point of the year—definitely a wedding photo, if they got married in the prior 365 days—and distill what they’ve learned this year into a pithy caption.

For Instagram users who really want to take their wistful year-end reflection up a notch, we now have Stories. The frightening mastery of this ephemeral feature over the past two years has made 2018 a hallmark year for meandering month-by-month recaps of Instagrammers’ years, sponsored vacation by sponsored vacation. Instead of being algorithmic or follower-driven, a la top nine, this is a self-curated greatest hits, using content that was already curated as the raw material. It’s year-end reflection for content-creating professionals.

That our year-end contemplation now plays out on Instagram is not surprising. No one really liked going to the trouble of sending paper cards, and traditional holiday cards were just as carefully curated. The truly devoted, those who sent computer print-outs of the year’s babies, graduations, sweet 16s and family vacations, were really no different than the power-‘grammers of today.

Much like holiday cards of yore, the year-end Instagram post is self-centered but also earnest and vaguely vulnerable. Indulgent but occasionally charming. It is, in a way, a lot like us.