Addressing Christmas Cards

Every year we go through the ritual of revising our Christmas card list. It’s always been a manual process in Excel because my wife must have each card addressed exactly right. A card could be addressed to Mr. John Smith, The Smiths or the Smith Family, depending on John’s success with women.

After seeing a few other friends’ address management methods using Microsoft Word, then hearing one couple talk about what an organizational mess their handwritten cards were, I decided to do what I should have done years ago: create a method to rely on the same address book we use on a daily basis to generate our list. We use Contacts (formerly Address Book) on our Macs. Contacts syncs via iCloud to our iPhones and iPads and, after years of syncing nightmares, I believe this technology is now nearly flawless.

So the issue at hand was to print address labels from a group in Contacts exactly the way my wife would like them to read. The solution is to set a custom field in Contacts for Christmas cards, and use that field to print the labels.

HINT: if you are not as persnickety as my wife about how the labels read, you can’t print labels directly out of Contacts. Just set up a group that has all your card recipients, highlight it, then print and choose labels. It will print a label for all addresses by default, so change it on the Labels tab to Home only.

Here are the steps for the persnickety amongst us:

1) Add a custom field in Contacts
2) Create a holiday card group in contacts
3) Step through your list editing the new custom field to your liking
4) Export the list in CSV format (comma separated values)
5) Open the list in Excel
6) Set up a Word mail-merge document to print the labels

Step 1: Add a custom field in Contacts

  • In Contacts, select the Contacts drop menu, then Preferences (Contacts>Preferences).
  • Click the Template button in the header.
  • Scroll down to the “Related Name” fields. You’ll probably see “friend” and “assistant”. Click the green “+” button. It will add “mother”, but click on “mother” and select “custom”, like this:
  • Fill in your custom label then click OK. Now that label will be available when you add or edit a contact.
Step 2: Create a group in Contacts and populate it with your holiday card list
  • Choose File>New Group, then name your new group.
  • Select “All Contacts” at the top of the group list so that you can see your contacts again.
  • Drag your holiday card list contacts and drop them on the name of your new group.
Step 3: Step through your list editing the new custom field to your liking
  • With your group set up, you must now undertake the painstaking step of editing your custom field for each contact. This is a big pain the first time you do it, but will pay off for years to come.
  • It’s also beneficial to make sure the address that you want to use on your label is in the Home field, not Work. This will put all the addresses in the same column when you export them.
Step 4: Export the list to Excel
Now we need to get our addresses out of Contacts so that we can print labels using the custom field. This is most easily done by springing $1 for a little app called “AB2CSV” available on the Mac App Store here.
  • AB2CSV is one-button app, so we must first change our Preferences (AB2CSV drop menu, then Preferences)
  • On the “General” tab, choose your new holiday card group, and checkbox for “All contacts in a single file”:
  • On the “CSV” tab, check “Related Names” near the bottom.
  • Now close out of Preferences and click the big AB2CSV button, then choose where to save your export file.

Step 5: Open the list in Excel

  • Use Finder to navigate to your new file, right-click on it, and open it in Excel.
  • Excel may put each record in one cell, showing you a bunch of commas. Click on the column header to highlight it (the “A” at the top), then select Data>Text to Columns…
    • Step 1: choose “Delimited”, then click Next
    • Step 2: check the box for “Comma” then click Next
    • Step 3: leave these settings alone and click Finish
  • You can now delete all the unnecessary columns and make sure all your data looks good. You should have one column with your new custom Contacts field as the header (in Row 1). It will be a bit to the right, though.
  • When you are satisfied with your document, save it as an Excel file.
Step 6: Set up a Word mail-merge document to print the labels
Using Word’s mail-merge function seems more daunting than it is. It’s a great thing to know how to do. I’ll walk you through the basic steps.
    • With a new Word document open, choose Tools>Mail Merge Manager. This will open a floating menu that will walk you through a Mail Merge in steps. My numbers below match those in the Mail Merge Manager:

    1. Click Create New>Labels… and choose the type of labels you are printing.
    2. Click Get List>Open Data Source… and open the Excel document (use the default options).
    3. The “Edit Labels” window should pop up automatically. Use this to build your labels by inserting the fields laid out as you would address an envelope.   When you click OK, it will populate all the labels with your fields.
    4. You can filter recipients if you wish to print labels in groups. Perhaps you want to include a letter to everyone out of state, so you could filter once for the state field matching your state, then again for it not matching your state.
    5. Step five is the payoff. It lets you see your data populating your labels. Click the “ABC” button to see the magic.
    6. Complete your merge by clicking the Merge to New Document button rather than the Merge to Printer button. This allows you to see the merge in a document before printing. It will also allow you to easily print one page in case there is a printing mishap.
And that’s all there is to it! Hopefully this will help organize your Contacts and free up a little time for the holidays next year! I am happy to answer questions, just post below!


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