It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas … Here in My Mailbox


It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas … Here in My Mailbox

by Stephanie Kennedy

I love that old song, mostly because it drives my teenagers crazy when I sing it out loud (and loudly) whenever we are out and about. Protip: Teenagers will do almost anything to avoid being embarrassed.  I’ve had my car washed, my kitchen mopped and my dog bathed all on account because I promised not to belt out this classic the entire time we looked for our tree this year. #winning

Professional Trackers

My family is in the habit of tracking things, or as my husband refers to it, “keeping tabs so that you can one-up each other at the next family gathering.” Whatever. True to form, I’ve been keeping an Excel spreadsheet of how many Christmas cards we send out each year and to whom. It’s not done to determine a tit-for-tat kind of thing. I recall my Mom having a book where you could mark, each year, if you sent someone a card and if you received one from that person, as well. That always seemed a little … retaliatory? Insincere? I don’t know. It just felt wrong to send or not send a card based on how someone treated you. That seems a little contrary to the subject of Christmas itself, I always thought.

Why Keep Track?

No, my list isn’t kept so that I can mark the Smiths off because we sent them a card three years a row and they didn’t reciprocate. I do it because I love data. I love to self-analyze and self-correct based on hard facts. You can’t get any harder than actual numbers, amirite? When I put together this visualization, I wanted to analyze some specific things:

  • What is the trend in the number of cards I’ve sent over time?
  • What are the years that I sent less and why might that have been?
  • I also wanted to know where we sent the cards – where do the people we love and care about live?

This is what I came up with:

The Viz Explained

I’m all for “don’t make it more complicated than it needs to be.” It’s one of my favorite phrases ever.  Tableau has so many cool visualization options that it’s tempting to throw a whole lot of stuff at your problem. But when you have specific questions about your data in mind, why not create a visualization that answers those questions in the simplest way possible?

Across the top, I have a dual-axis line and shape chart. I wanted the line to help me see the trend and to invoke the feeling of decorating a tree. But I wanted something to pizzazz it up a little, so that second axis (which charts the same value – # of cards sent) is a shape mark type. I searched Google for “Christmas ornament icon,” and what to my wondering eyes should appear but thousands of options! I chose one, saved it to the Shapes subfolder of My Tableau Repository (after confirming that doing so wouldn’t violate any copyright terms, of course) and there you go. Something a little fun!

What I noticed right away was the dip from 2010 to 2011. The end of 2011 was crazy due to double knee replacement surgery for my husband. Y’all? If you got a card from me that year, consider yourself on the top of my list because not much else got done that holiday season! But this is just the kind of thing I was looking for when I decided to build this visualization.

For the states that I sent the cards to, I thought about using a map. But honestly, I know where all the states are. What I am looking for here is just how many cards are sent to each state. So, a tree map seemed the best choice. Each box is colored by the state and then sized by the number of cards sent there each year. Super simple and super easy to answer the question I had in mind.

Speaking of “y’all,” y’all: It’s clear that not only am I from Texas, but most of the people that I send cards to live here, as well! This is just what I was hoping to see … how far is my reach? How many people do I know in places other than my (adopted) home state? Looks like based on this chart, I need to branch out a little. So, if you live in a state that is not Texas, please add me to your list. Here’s where you can send the card:

Steph Kennedy
c/o InterWorks, Inc.
1425 S. Sangre Rd
Stillwater, OK  74074

But Really … Send Me a Card

Not. Even. Joking. If you send me a card, I’ll track it and build a new chart so we can see a little before and after. And if you also track your card-sending habits – like good data nerds do – please reply in the comments and post your own visualizations.

Let’s get this holiday party started, shall we!?

Note: I’ll be updating the workbook and adding a few variations of these charts throughout the month, so check back on Tableau Public for additional views! 

More About the Author

Stephanie Kennedy

Analytics Consultant
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