Do you know the history behind holiday cards?

Me neither. But I grew up before social media and online card printing services so let me tell you about my dad instead.

To this day he collects holiday cards in a basket by the door throughout December and opens each one by the fire on Christmas morning. He has countless cousins and 12 nieces and nephews, many of whom have kids themselves. He's not on Facebook or Instagram.

He and my mom left the small town where they both grew up to raise a family 9 hours away by car. They weren't going to see their cousins' kids grow up like they would have had they chosen to stay in their Polish American neighborhood.

I think that's why he loved those 4x6 prints that were often included in cards from family. Sometimes the sender would write a long note with updates on what was new. Later, as more folks got home printers, he would find a folded "newsletter" with the card. But it was the pictures he would call my mom over from the kitchen to see, busy as she was cooking breakfast, so they could gush about so and so getting so big and muse over the passing of time.

In these moments, they were home.

I think of my dad when I choose to send cards. I think about the great aunts and uncles and cousins twice removed who aren't on the Gram. I think about families spread over miles trying to reconnect once a year in some small way. I think of sausage burning on a stovetop because someone left the kitchen to see how big so and so got and was carried away.

That's not always the vibe. Sometimes a holiday card reads more like the CV of the children pictured on the front. Often parents won't include themselves in the photo. And sometimes the sheer volume of cards on display in a home feels like a popularity contest, the win hinging on those New Years Cards stragglers. ("Why can't those people just get their shit together?")

If what you are intending is a hello, a well wish, a sincere "thinking of you this season", or a trip home there are a few things you can do to make it so. And there are a few things you can avoid.

1.) Think of it as a visit to someone's house.

You wouldn't just drop the kids off and stay in the car because you feared you looked fat or bald or had crow's feet, would you? You wouldn't just walk in, rattle off Bobby's championship hockey win and Suzy's lead in the school play, flash the peace sign and then leave, right? What would you want to say if you only had a couple minutes to catch up with someone in person, in their home? Say that.

2.) Its OK to share lots of photos, just know that for each one you decide to include, you diminish them all.

This is a tough - but there's only so much real estate on a card so the more images you include, the smaller each image has to be. Try to keep your target audience in mind, will they need to turn on an extra light and grab some reading glasses? Will you lose all the detail in an awesome photo once its small or are you choosing shots that are fairly simple and readable? One strong (but delightfully imperfect) photo might be the best choice. Maybe another on the back. Unless of course its COVID times (see below)

3.) Give them the feels.

We're inclined to use the "here's what we look like this year" shot but its OK to try something different... What photo did you take as a family this year that really made you feel something? Pick that one. If you feel it, they'll feel it too. And if you really want to go the extra mile, name the feeling and find the card template that echoes that uses those words. If it feels peaceful, find a card wishing peace for the season. If its feels joyful, find a card that says joy to the world. If you took a close up photo of your kid the year they lost their two front teeth, say a little something about "all he wants for Christmas", even if you don't celebrate Christmas. Especially if you don't celebrate Christmas. (This was my favorite holiday card that I ever sent, I wish I could find it to show you but at least I found the photo, see below!)

Make them laugh, make them sigh, make them hold your card to their heart for a moment before they put it on their mantle. That's the stuff.

I hope this helps you design something you love sharing out so much that it takes the sting out of all the data collection, label printing, discount hunting and stamping necessary to make the project come together! It can be worth it.



Below - I couldn't find my favorites, I'll add them to this post if I can dig them up, but I found a few in my order histories to share. Perfect? No. Masterful? Hardly! But always heartfelt.

a holiday card with a family in flannel pajamas with a flannel border
a holiday card with a family with twinkle lights behind them that says "all is bright"
a holiday card with a family leaning with their leaning tree outside their house
a holiday card from 2020 that says "shelter in place in review"
the second half of a holiday card from 2020 with many images