I know. I know. It’s not even Halloween yet. But for the planner, Christmas starts now. Or at least, Christmas planning. One thing that requires the most preparation during the holiday season is sending out Christmas cards. If you’re considering a photo card with an annual family snapshot, it’s time to spring into action. Whether you prefer a do-it-yourself approach or to seek professional assistance, organizing your Christmas cards early will keep the stress out of the holiday season so you can focus on the hot cocoa and light displays.
Here is my dialed in timeframe for what I do to get Christmas cards out with a step-by-step timeline to follow.
Step 1 (optional): Schedule a Photographer (August/September)
If you want to go the professional photo route (and it’s a great excuse to get yearly family photos), I like to schedule a photographer by early August. If you have a photographer you use or love, ask them when they open up their holiday photo schedule. Make sure to confirm their turnaround time. I recommend ordering cards by late November, so you’ll need to have your photos back by then. Then schedule them or mark a to-do on your calendar.
Step 2: Think Location and Outfits
Start thinking about outfits and locations. You do not need to buy everyone new outfits. We’ve always used what we already have. Consider coordinating rather than matching everyone’s clothing. Choose a color palette or theme that complements each other and your location. Incorporate layers, textures, and patterns to add depth and visual interest to the photos.
For photo locations, think of places that hold meaning for your family or reflect your desired aesthetic. Outdoor locations such as parks, gardens, or scenic landscapes provide natural beauty and amazing lighting. Or think about tucked away city streets or architectural landmarks for different feel. Consider the time of day, travel time and weather conditions.
Step 3: Take Photos (October/Early November)
You’ll need to take your photos in the fall in order to make your timeline work. For the last two years we’ve taken photos ourselves. If you opt to do professional photos (a great gift for yourself and family) then hopefully you were able to pre-schedule a photographer and make sure their turnaround time aligns with your timeline. If you weren’t DIYing is totally doable, whether you want a casual or polished vibe.
Step 4: Select a Card Design (Mid-November)
Once you see your photos or proofs, review them (edit if you’re doing this yourself) and choose the perfect photo(s). Upload your favorites to your card site (here are my favorite sites for ordering holiday cards) and see what works best.
Step 5: Finalize Your Card and Mailing List (Late November/Early December)
Pick your card! Consider theme and style. There are options for traditional, modern, rustic or whimsical. Think about your photos and what complements it best. Take into account the colors in your family photo and choose a card design that complements them. Identify how many photos you want to share and what orientation they are. Ensure the design allows your photo to be the focal point and doesn’t crop awkwardly or losing important details (or people).
My number one suggestion is to pay for the recipient addressing (or choose a company that does it for free). Not having to hand address cards is my number one stress reliever and time saver. Compile or update a list of those lucky friends and family you’re sending your card to. Review it for anyone who may have moved and reach out to update addresses. Each site will have a different mailing list template that you may need to format your addresses to. If you use the same company each year, this becomes easier and easier. I always print a few extra so I can do one-off mailings for those who I need to send a second one to due to an address issue or if we received a surprise card and want to return the gesture.
Step 6: Order Complementing Stamps (Late November/Early December)
The USPS has a few holiday stamp designs each year–and you can’t always pick them up from your post office. Shipping is free, but to ensure you have them on hand when you’re ready to send out your Christmas cards, order them along with your cards.
Step 7: Send the Cards (Mid-December)
To ensure your cards reach their destinations on time, plan to send them out by mid-December. The earlier in December the better. You don’t want friends and family thinking they were 86’d from the list. Take into account the shipping times for different locations, especially if you have international recipients. Some card companies will not only print your addresses but send them for you, if you really want to have a no-fuss experience.
Step 8: Monitor the Post for any Returned Cards (December)
Each year one or two cards get returned. Make sure you update your mailing list for next year and hand address a new card and get it in the mail. Don’t forget to follow up with any friends or family members who sent you cards as well. Send them a heartfelt thank-you text or if you’re feeling in the spirit- make a phone .
Organizing your Christmas cards well in advance will save you from the stress and chaos that often accompany the holiday season. By following this step-by-step timeline, you can ensure that your cards are prepared, addressed, and sent out in a timely manner, leaving you more time to enjoy the festivities with your loved ones. Remember, the purpose of Christmas cards is to share warmth, love, and good wishes, so don’t let the process become overwhelming. Embrace the holiday spirit and
Let’s Be Real…
You’re probably here because you’re wanting to get cards out and struggle every year: but as a reminder this is not something you have to do. If the idea of this stresses you out, it’s okay to take it off your plate. I love the process of giving and receiving and I love looking back on our previous year cards (it’s such a lovely snapshot in time). But if you think you have to, change that mindset. You don’t. The season is not about piling on your to-dos but slowing down, appreciating the season and connecting–however way you want to do that.
There are plenty of alternative ways to spread holiday cheer and connect with loved ones. Send an e-card (Paperless Post has beautiful designs), make a funny video and post it to your social media channel, or put together a Google or Amazon photo album and send an email with message and link.
Whether you choose the professional route with a photographer or opt for a DIY approach, the key is to plan ahead and enjoy the process. Remember, while sending holiday cards is a beautiful tradition, it’s not obligatory. The holiday season is about slowing down, appreciating the moments, and connecting with loved ones in whatever way brings you joy.