Peek Into Our Christmas: Annual Holiday Cards

It is cold and it is wet and I am just not feeling great about it. I had no problem feeling grateful last Friday during our temporary water crisis (that could have been so much worse!) but today…not so much. After what feels like an entire month of cold, grey, soggy days, I’m very much “over” this weather. The 10-day forecast is not helping my optimism. So far today we’ve had: snow, freezing rain, and plain old-fashioned regular rain and that’s basically what’s on tap for as far in the future as the local meteorologists care to speculate. Sigh.

I’m currently in bed with two Magic Bags preparing to take a nap. Now that I think of it…I am grateful for the flexibility of working from home. And, also, it has been too long since I took a nap, so I guess I’m grateful to the rain for pushing me to this state of mind.

But let’s think about happier times, shall we? How about Christmas cards – one of my favourite dopamine hits of the season is opening up our mailbox to see a new stack of cards in the mail. And I got most of mine in the mail last week (my earliest distribution ever).

But, are you ready for this? You do NOT have to circulate Christmas cards. There are no holiday police that will ticket you for not participating in this tradition. Also, if you do it one year (because, through some miracle, you captured a great photo of the whole family looking directly at the camera without giant ketchup stains on their clothes), YOU DO NOT HAVE TO DO IT EVERY YEAR.

I know people that send Valentine’s cards; others send New Year’s cards. Most send no cards of any sort and that is 100% okay.

Now that we have gotten that little disclaimer out of the way…let’s chat about Christmas cards (specifically photocards).


Most of our annual Christmas cards! Apparently, we are Merry and/or Bright most years…
Back side.

I am someone that sends cards each year. Stacks and stacks of them. One of my favourite modes of communication is through the written word – hence finally starting a blog in 2021. But I have a special place in my heart for letter-writing and already circulate monthly updates to family and friends (and every so often will collate those letters into a bound book). So it feels natural for me to prioritize this form of communication each Christmas.

how do you make your holiday cards?

One year I did design our card from scratch (the year Levi was born as I wasn’t sure if I’d have enough time to get them professionally printed, so I mocked something up and had a local printer run them off), but typically I just use prefab design options; my go-to source is Vistaprint.

I’ve already explained how we capture annual family photos – these are a low-key affair, so I’m not too fussed about the final product, although I do spend an inordinate amount of time debating what fonts to use. I don’t opt for special (expensive!) trimmings like foil or scalloped edges. Standard paper is my frugal jam.

Do you write a message to everyone?

Years ago I jumped on the mass-update bandwagon. I write a 2-page letter that summarizes the highlights from our year and I include that along with most of our Christmas cards (I don’t usually give this epic tome to neighbours or friends we see regularly). I make sure to leave a bit of white space at the bottom of the letter and I’ll include a few sentences that have personalized updates or questions: I might reminisce about seeing a particular family member during the year, inquire about grandkids/pets, or discuss an upcoming event that would be mutually interesting.

You can glimpse a sliver of my update letter under the mound of cards and Canada post paraphernalia. One page, two sides. I use plain printer paper and place some sort of black-and-white silhouette along the top of the front page to dress it up a bit. This particular border was recycled from 2019’s letter…

how much time does all this take?

Hmmm. I would say family pictures take about 2 hours (give or take depending on travel time). Then I spend 2-3 hours selecting and editing pictures and creating the photocard. I likely dedicate over an hour to preparing the annual update letter, and another hour writing personalized notes. This year I outsourced addressing envelopes to Abby (and no, I didn’t pay her!), so maybe another 30 minutes for that process + stuffing/stamping.

Overall, spread out over the course of a month, I likely invest about 10 hours into this holiday tradition. I don’t necessarily enjoy all aspects of the process (getting family photos has, at times, been an exhausting, sweaty, and demoralizing experience – though it’s getting ~1000x easier as the kids get older!), but it’s important to me because I value maintaining connections with family and friends, many of whom we don’t see very often.

So I do it. I’ve done it every year for over a decade and, Lord willing, I will do it for many decades to come!

Without further ado: our 2021 Christmas card. And, once again, we are “Merry.” A good state of mind for the holiday season…

Do you send Christmas cards (or photocards) each year? If so, what’s your process and how do you display the ones you receive?

11 thoughts on “Peek Into Our Christmas: Annual Holiday Cards”

  1. Beautiful card!! I just ordered mine last Friday. My husband thinks the whole thing is a colossal waste of time and money, so this is one area we do NOT see eye to eye. haha. I told him Friday night- Listen. I have sent a card every year for our 14 years of marriage. And every year you complain. What’s the point!? I still always send them! LOL.

    I just got mine from Amazon this year, because I back my photos up to Amazon Photos already, and I was worried that I might have issues because my iphone apparently now takes .heic file pics instead of .jpgs. I know on Amazon they automatically convert them to jpgs, but I saw on one site that I’ve used in the past that they only accept jpgs…which would mean I’d need to mess around with converting them first, etc. SO that’s what I did, for ease of everything. I like to send cards with multiple photos, and I’m not sure Amazon offered my all time favorite options for multi-photo cards, but again, it got the job done in the window of time I had to devote to it! šŸ™‚

    Yours is so pretty! I have to decide if I want to send a letter or not. I used to, and then didn’t for a long time…. (I feel like the letters get a bad rap. at least in the U.S., for being a “brag letter”- which I personally think is silly, because I love hearing other people “brag”/ update me about their kids’ successes and activities and family travels and whatever!). I did send a modified “update” letter/bullet point style update last year that I kept pretty short and sweet, which felt like a nice compromise. My cards won’t be here for another week or so, so I have some time to decide. My least favorite cards to receive are the ones that are just a regular greeting card with “Love, so and so” inside. No photo, no message, no letter, no nothing! I mean, I’m glad to hear from the person, but those just aren’t particularly fun! My favorites are the ones that do have either a letter or at least some kind of little written update on the photo card…or at the very very least, a simple photo card so I can see the family. šŸ™‚

    1. Thanks! I’m really happy with how it turned out this year.

      1. I had no idea you could order photocards through Amazon. Of course you can…Amazon now officially sells everything! That sounds so convenient.
      2. I have never heard of update letters being called “brag” letters, but I guess I can see the objection to them from that respect. I love receiving them; a few friends actually incorporate pictures into these update letters which I especially love. Since I don’t have social media and we live a long way from extended family and many friends, Christmas is the only time a year certain people see pictures of the kids/hear news about what’s been happening in our lives.
      3. Ditto on not loving the signed cards with no note. It would never cross my mind because I’m so…wordy…but it also feels like a lost opportunity. If I’m already paying to send a card, I want to get my money’s worth – which feels like it requires an update or personalized hello of some sort!

  2. Beautiful cards! I did order a few cards this year to send out, but it was only 10. I really didn’t get many cards last year and I waited far too long to send them out. I was stressed over it all! So, I think I’ll just be sending those 10 cards out. One tradition I do have is to create a December Daily book. I’ve done it for years and it’s so fun looking back at our family traditions and watching the kids grow up through those books. I also create a photobook of our summer family trip and give that to each kid as a present at Christmas. It’s all a lot of work, but I also enjoy it!

    1. Is the Daily Book like a diary of sorts for all December? I love this sort of thing and am intrigued!

      I do an annual photobook and at this point have only printed off one each year for the whole family to enjoy, but I have a friend who does photobooks for her kids at Christmas and I think it’s such a great gift idea. I do something similar for grandparents and my daughter where I print off a photocalendar and this is a HUGE hit (also a lot of work, but a lot less than a photobook)!

  3. Your cards are beautiful! And how fun to look back at past cards. I put a card for each year in my kids’ baby books although this year I did not order extras since I had them addressed. Whoops. I’m guessing I could order a few more so I might do that when I order our calendar. We get our cards through shutterfly. That’s where I make our calendar and annual book of photos. I write a little something on the back but that’s it. I love getting letters from others but I know my husband isn’t a fan of letter writing so I just do the brief back-of-the-card updates. It doesn’t take me all that long to put the card together and this year was extra easy since I had shutterfly address the envelopes. I love getting cards from others so I feel it’s worth the money spent!

    Your weather sounds awful. I personally hate rain at this time of year. I would prefer to just get snow. Being out in the rain is just awful, but being out in the snow can be fun, especially when you have kids! We might get snow this weekend but the chances seem to be declining.

    1. I just responded to Jenny about the “write on the back of the photocard” idea and see you do this too. I think it’s genius! I’m a bit on the wordy side and have never been able to resist doing a longer update letter, but I really think this is genius.
      I always keep one card each year, too. It’s so fun to look back on them. But I hate clutter at Christmas…so have stopped displaying our old cards. I really should come up with a less invasive way of putting them up (I always used to put them on the fridge but it was just getting to be too much), because it is pretty sweet to look back at each year.
      We don’t exchange many gifts at Christmas (outside our immediate family), so I almost see our photocard as our little “gift” to distant friends and relatives. It’s a nice way to stay connected and I absolutely love seeing photos from other people since I’m not on social media and can often go a whole year without seeing how big so-and-so has gotten.

      The weather is awful. I really, really hate this cold, wet weather. Sigh. But our summer and fall was glorious…
      To be honest, I’m not a fan of snow either. Maybe after 30+ years of winter weather, I’m just over it? I find it takes so much time with the kids – though less each year as they get more and more independent. Gathering all the bulky gear, drying it out when we come inside. I’m also always so cold, so I think winter is just naturally a tough time for me as I rarely manage to stay warm outside, even with all the right gear. But the kids do love it and I’m trying to make more of an effort to be enthusiastic – with mixed results.

  4. I love getting photo Christmas cards, and I’m a big fan of the Christmas “newsletter.” However, it’s been a while since I’ve done it myself. “Demoralizing” is a great way to describe getting the family picture taken! We did it a few times, then I resorted to sending regular cards with each kids’ school picture in it. Now I’ve devolved further into sending out just a few cards which may or may not include pictures (sometimes a picture of just one kid with an explanation of what happened to the other picture… sigh.). I do love receiving cards, so I should really get back into sending them.
    Your cards are beautiful!!!

    1. I really love writing (especially the old-fashioned stamped letter-in-the-mailbox variety), but I 100% leave lots of other very fun things off my list that just aren’t important to me. We don’t decorate that much (I’ve seen your Snoopy shower curtain – you are in the big leagues of decorating!!), never make gingerbread houses, don’t always go see the Nutcracker etc.

      If you did want to prioritize it – and there is no need to do so – could you rope other family members in on the action? This year I had Abby address the envelopes and it really did make the whole process more efficient and fun (and I think people will love seeing her handwriting). Maybe get the kids to take the lead on picking out their favourite picture from the year?

      Also, don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the done. Really what people want is to feel loved, remembered and thought of at Christmas. What about sending an update newsletter via e-mail with some photos? Or a friend of ours always does a photo card (candid photos from throughout the year on the front) + with a bullet point update on the back. I think this is genius – it’s much shorter than an update letter but is a great way to share the year’s highlights.

  5. I love Christmas cards – they’re my favorite thing of the holiday season. We usually put them up on the wall when they arrive, so the card-wall grows during the holiday season. Then I’ll take a pictures of all of them before taking them down.

    I send Christmas Cards every year, too. I used to make the cards myself, but in recent years, I’ve enjoyed photo cards from others, so I jumped on that bandwagon (although my husband hates to have his picture taken and so I scramble every year to find one of the two of us that I can use – we never do a photo session for it! – and sometimes I just used a photo from where we live.)

    I enjoy the process of writing a few lines on each card and stuffing + addressing the envelopes. It’s usually an afternoon (or two) activity with tea, candles and Christmas cookies by my side šŸ™‚

    I have never done a traditional Christmas letter (it’s not a tradition I grew up with), but I like the idea.

    1. We have one friend that handmakes all her cards and they’re lovely…but that is definitely NOT for me.
      It is a fun process, but I think I enjoy it more in retrospect. I’m always anxious to get them out the door because it feels like a very big to-do. It’s a bit like the stressful, exhausting vacation you enjoy more when you’re home recuperating from the jet lag?

      My mother always handwrote all her Christmas cards (it would take her weeks and weeks to get this done), but I love the ease of sending an update letter. I try to make it engaging and fun without too many tiny details that would feel boring to more distant connections. I also keep a copy of each letter in our main Christmas decoration box and I love pausing to re-read some when we’re putting up Christmas decor.

  6. Your cards are lovely! What a wonderful way to document your family through the years (of challenging photos and other random issues… :>). I suspect that all who receive them are truly grateful that you take the time to share your life, and some personal comments, as well. I have not sent cards in recent years but this year hope to handwrite notes in some (very cute) mass produced holiday cards. It’s about all I can handle this time of year, end of semester. And since it’s just me, well, no one wants just a picture of me. šŸ™‚

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