Christmas cards: ideas for sending them and saving them

In one week, the holiday chaos begins. Christmas markets are being set up in Germany. Women are playing a little Christmas music when they think no one is around.

We’re pinning holiday ideas onto Pinterest. And I’m getting pretty excited about my mailbox, just like Tsh mentioned on Monday. It’s Christmas card season!

Svetlana Alliluveya (aka Lana Peters) described our tradition perfectly when she said:

“One good thing about not seeing you is that I can write you letters.”

I’ve got some ideas for sending Christmas cards that I want to share with you. I also have some tips for what to do with all those holiday cards when January rolls into town.

First up: ideas for sending cards

1. Make it matter.

A few Christmases ago when I was living in Berlin, Germany, I received a holiday card from some friends. I was pretty excited as I tore open the envelope on my way up the stairs to my apartment. Then I froze.

They didn’t pause to sign their names. They just printed off a sheet of labels that said “Merry Christmas from Jack and Jill” and stuck one in the card.

We have this societal expectation that everyone must send cards. You don’t have to. Some years, life is too busy. The people who care about you get that you have your hands full. Skip cards this season if you need to. But when you do send them, make them matter.

Add a personal note. Pass the card around the table for everyone to sign. Add some x’s and o’s.

2. Send fun photos.

When I was young, one of my aunts always tucked a traditional family photo in the holiday cards she sent like everybody else. What was unique was that she also took the time to add a photo of my cousins and me camping, eating ice cream, driving go-carts – something fun from that year.

That gesture is even bigger these days as most of us take hundreds of photographs and store them on our computers. We rarely get prints of any of our photos.

I make it a regular habit to send fun photos with the letters and Christmas cards I write (like the photo above!). You’d be surprised how many of these photos end up on bedroom mirrors, bulletin boards, and refrigerators… places where professional photos of each other’s families never end up.

Second: ideas for saving cards

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe wrote, “Letters are among the most significant memorial a person can leave behind them.”

It’s true. Last year, I shared a slew of ideas with you on how to repurpose cards. Today, let’s talk about the cards you want to keep.

1. Leave cards as they are, but repurpose them into something new.

What on earth do I mean by that? Let Sara from the simple living blog, Go Gingham, show you:

Photo by Sara Tetreault 

This bundle of old Christmas cards belonged to Sara’s great grandmother, Clara. Clara collected the sentiments from her family and friends and tied them with string. On the blank portion of each card, she wrote her most-used recipes. There’s everything from lotion to pickles.

Now it’s a family heirloom of holiday stories and recipes.

(Oh! And lest you say card collecting is a waste, here’s an incredible story: if Sara hadn’t blogged about this collection of cards, we never would have known: we’re second cousins. Clara is my great grandmother, too.)

2. Hang onto cards from an incredible friend, then return them.

About eight years ago, my grandma’s best friend from college was moving to a retirement center. She sent my grandma a zipped plastic bag of about forty cards that my grandma had written to her over the years.

Who would have thought to keep such a collection? It’s one of the greatest gifts my grandma or any of us could have received.

I got to read about my dad’s first Christmas from my grandma’s perspective!

Now I encourage you to keep all the warm notes from a few good friends, too. Don’t tell them. Then one day, mail those letters back.

3. Put cards in a book.

The third way my extended family celebrates handwritten cards we’ve received is in journals like this one from Gadanke:

Photo by Katie Clemons

What good are the cards that tell the stories and celebrate the milestones of our lives if they are in a shoebox under the bed? I think we need them out where we can flip through them and celebrate all the stories of people who have touched us.

I keep this journal on the bookcase near my bed and add a card or two every so often. I have an old postcard from my brother asking for more candy at Scout camp. There are encouraging cards my mom sent while I was away at college. There are notes from new friends and old. And to tie in with Christmas, there are plenty of those cards, too… including one from the big red guy himself.

Otherwise, where would those cards go? In the trash? In a shoebox in the back of the closet?

This season, I challenge you to add a little extra heart into your holiday cards – the ones you send and the ones you receive. You just never know how your notes will touch people for years to come.

Will you be sending holiday cards this season?

Katie Clemons

Katie Clemons is a storycatcher and award-winning journal crafter. She helps folks celebrate their life stories and nurture deeper bonds with her beloved mother child journals and introspective diaries at She also blogs at Making This Home.

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  1. Thank you for these wonderful ideas 🙂

  2. Yes! We will be doing cards this year. Last year we didn’t send many cards, mainly to just family, but it is a highlight every year for me. And I save my cards each year to first remember who I need to send cards to the next year, but then I use them as labels for Christmas presents.

  3. I really like the idea of putting cards into a book. I might do this with all the baby cards we received when we had my daughter and also my First Mother’s day cards.

  4. I always save cards and notes. They are in a box hidden away somewhere. I need ot get them out so I can read my grandmother’s sweet letters and see postcards from my granddaddy sent to my children when he and my grandmother traveled in an RV and sent funny notes along the way. I love the journal idea.

  5. I have always saved my card (not Christmas cards though), I love some of the ideas you have about saving them in a more meaningful manner.

    I haven’t done Christmas cards in a few years – I want to this year though. I also think it is important to add a personal touch to them! I don’t like getting cards in the mail that have absolutely no personal touches to them – it makes it feel like it was a duty accomplished rather than someone thinking of me!

  6. This is a wonderful post full of awesome ideas. I really find myself drooling over the items at Gadanke. Great stuff lady!

  7. I love these ideas for sending and saving cards! I did something similar with the cards from our wedding; our guestbook was a spiral-bound notebook and only the first few pages of it got used, so I stapled all of our cards into the rest of the pages. Now we have one book, right next to our wedding album, that we can pull down to read all the well-wishes we received on our wedding. 🙂

  8. I used the photo cards we received last year and made laminated placemats for me boys to use at breakfast. They enjoy recognizing and talking about family and friends we don’t get to see as often. It has made them more “present’ people in their lives which I love.

  9. I love this! Especially the journal. Sometimes I’ll add a picture from an earlier event to certain cards – I’ve even been known to enclose a DVD of something we videotaped when visiting friends. It’s a great way to personalize the Christmas card, and so much more memorable!

  10. Such great ideas! I usually put all the photo cards in an album, but didn’t think about keeping the other kind – good suggestion! I totally agree with you about ‘make it matter’. Never been a fan of those cards that are pre-printed and nothing personal written on them. They might as well be addressed to Resident.

  11. I have saved almost all out cards over 6 years (3 kids, wedding, anniversary, my husband is starting at our 2nd church this year as a pastor… lots of cards) then just a week ago my son was diagnosed with cancer and as i have piles of cards to go through before Christmas ones start coming in! This is perfect for today

  12. I enjoy sending/receiving holiday cards, too. Over the past six years, my husband and I have written a holiday letter with our cards (or sometimes just by itself). They have seen us through a wedding, two babies, and other life events. We include photos and updates on our activities/achievements throughout the past year. We celebrate Hanukah and several family members celebrate Christmas – no matter what the exact holiday, it’s just a great season and card giving/receiving adds to the spirit!
    Thanks for this blog today. I really liked the journal you showed – I need to check that out more.

  13. Good ideas. We save cards and turn them into gift tags . Cutting off the picture and putting the too and from on the card faces. My MIL still has cards that have been used and reused since her children were small. It is fun to see a familiar card with your name on it.
    We also prefer to send family pictures with our cards. I then take all the picture cards we receive and jot the year on the back. They then decorate our fridge for the next year. What more fun than to watch families grow.

  14. We celebrate Hanukah in our family and many family members also celebrate Christmas – regardless of the holiday, I love to send/receive holiday cards! Over the last six year, my husband and I have sent holiday letters. They have seen us through a wedding, anniversaries, 2 babies, and much more. We like to include photos and updates on our jobs and the kids milestones as well as interests. Thank you so much for the inspiration her to find somewhat to organize and preserve these letters as well as the cards/letters we receive.
    Happy Holidays!

  15. Just had to chime in for a second- please be slow to judge those who don’t hand write anything. There may be a back story you don’t know about (very few people know that’s it painful- and not very legible!- for me to write after a car accident years back. Others may have arthritis, etc.). I spend hours designing our family Christmas card, so a lot of thought has gone into it even though there’s no hand written note

    • Great perspective, Michelle! Thanks for sharing how a personal touch isn’t necessarily through handwriting. It’s through the creative process of making the cards. I love that!

  16. Such wonderful, practical, relevant, and meaningful tips! Thank you for these. I am inspired! 🙂

  17. My mum used to keep the cards she liked, and separated the picture part, and used fancy edge scissors to make gift tags out of them.

  18. Laura Leighninger says:

    I loved your thoughts about sending letters back to their sender some day. My dad died in August, and my mom recently received just such a gift from her college roommate: a package of letters she had written this friend during the days of her engagement and early marriage. Imagine my mom’s delight as she re-read words she had written 49 years ago, detailaing their wedding plans, honeymoon, first home, and new friends in their new town. What an incredibly priceless gift!!! My mom has always been a great letter writer, but that is rarely reciprocated these days. This was such a touching and thoughtful thing for her to receive as she grieves the loss of my dad.

  19. Each year as I am putting away the decorations for another year, I gather up that years Christmas cards and place them in a gallon sized ziplock bag and then write the year on it and place it in the tub with the decorations. Then when I get the decorations out the next year I take a few moments to reread them and remember.

  20. Yes we will be sending photo cards. Each year we pull out the cards we have received from family and friends to decorate the tree with! We live overseas and its a great reminder of all our loved ones!

  21. Love the idea of saving notes in a little book – almost like a journal. Usually, I get cards that are only signed, so I recycle them after the holiday. However, I like to keep the picture cards and the ones with notes.

  22. I needed to read this today! I just ordered our cards, and they do already have our names on them (photo cards) and I confess I was totally just going to send them like that! We’re so busy these days! But we totally have time to all sign them, and especially with the kids and their still learning handwriting, it’ll be precious. I’m going to make some popcorn and cocoa and demand a dining room presence and we’re going to have a Christmas card signing party! It won’t be fancy, but it’ll remind us of what we’re doing. Thanks for the post!

  23. I like this idea, a few years ago I sent out cards that contained pictures of my kids but putting recipes on the inside of them definitely makes them worth saving. Thanks guys!

  24. I love snail mail– it is so much more personal than sending out ecards. These are great ideas! Thanks for sharing!

  25. custombetty57 says:

    Last Christmas my best friend gave me a really nice wooden Christmas card. It is color printed to Maple wood veneer and it folds which is super cool, the inside shows the message and the maple wood grain. I found out that a firm out in Colorado called Unique Custom Products made it. I am considering ordering from them this year…check them out if you like wooden items

  26. In one week, the holiday chaos begins. Christmas markets are being set up in Germany. Women are playing a little Christmas music when they think no one is around.

  27. I love the idea of the card journal! If you keep cards that have actual messages/updates written in them, it could almost be a kind of family history book. We repurpose our favorite cards into a Christmas garland that hangs in our dining room–it just keeps growing every year. We put photo cards in our family photo album and turn the rest into gift tags. Cards for my husband’s family, who live overseas, are a non-negotiable; however, sometimes they’re the only ones who get cards. My husband is a professional photographer, and he always comes up with some elaborate, hilarious photo. I think this year we’re going to be riding on our guinea pigs. The elderly family members, especially, really get a kick out of it.

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