This Is the Perfect Year to Send out Holiday Cards—And Now Is the Time to Start Working On Them

published Oct 20, 2020
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lead art for how to do holiday cards this year
Credit: Photo: Minted, Graphic: Apartment Therapy

I am 150 percent that person who waits until the very last minute to do my holiday cards every year. And no, I don’t just mean mailing them out—I start designing them the day that they should be getting penned with addresses and slapped with stamps (thank goodness for CVS same day photo pick-up). The season usually ends with me, a stack of photo cards, and a sinking realization that I’m better off waiting until I see the person next to give it to them instead of mailing it out.

Do any of my loved ones actually care that they get them late or in person? Absolutely not. But since I’m spending more time at home and yearning to start the festive season early this year, I’m determined to get my preparation on track and send cards before the holidays hit. Plus, this seems like the perfect year to send everyone I love a little token of my affection for them—and make sure it gets there on time. If you too need some extra guidance on how to navigate this year’s card sending season, I’d love for you to come with me on this journey.

I talked to DIY card makers, design experts, stationery brands—even a photographer and health expert to make sure you book photo shoots the safe way—to get the best tips for doing your holiday cards this year. And with 2020 being unlike any other year due to the pandemic, there are some need-to-knows on safety, mail delays, and overall trends to help make the process go smoothly.

Start thinking about holiday cards as early as Halloween.

While it might seem early, experts say to start thinking about your cards around or right after the spooky holiday.

Genesis Duncan, founder of online stationery shop Graphic Anthology, suggests that senders should start their card creating process earlier this year in anticipation of USPS delays in Nov. and Dec. “You’ll need time to order your cards, have them prepared and shipped to you, write or sign them, address and stamp them,” Duncan told Apartment Therapy. “Depending on your holiday recipient list, it can take a little while!”

Speaking of your recipient list, the first step to take is figuring out your count before jumping into the design process. Kristin Peters, CMO of custom gift shop Artifact Uprising, said that gathering up all your addresses ahead of time gives you a sense of how many cards and stamps you’re going to need, therefore helping you strategize the rest of your card-making process.

Decide what kind of holiday card you want to send.

Photos, graphics, DIY, oh my! There’s lots of options out there on the web, but to avoid getting overwhelmed, narrow down the general format and layout you’d like to go with.

If you’re thinking about going with a photo card, the best place to start is browsing collections on various websites (Minted, Artifact Uprising, VistaPrint, to name a few). First, think about whether you want a single photo or a multi-image card, landscape or portrait layout, and filter the list down from there.

The process for non-photo graphic cards is basically the same, just way more emphasis on the actual design and words on the card (since that naturally takes center stage without photos).

When it comes to DIY, there is a plentiful amount of crafting blogs that have step-by-step explainers to help you with ideation and execution, like Hello, Wonderful and Damask Love to name a few. Also, online marketplace Etsy has DIY card kits available for purchase that includes all the materials and instructions to make the process easier.

If you want to book a photographer, do so safely.

If you’re interested in doing an in-person photo shoot with a professional, you might be wondering whether it’s safe and how best to navigate the process. As long as you take the proper CDC precautions (face mask, six feet apart, hand-washing, etc.) and abide by your state rules and regulations (stay at home orders, outdoor versus indoor setting, etc.), Dr. Melissa Hawkins, an epidemiologist in the Department of Health Studies at American University, says that scheduling photo shoots can be done—as long as there’s strong and honest communication between you and the photographer.

“Have conversations and just communicate about what the precautions are for cleaning before you go in, and what the expectations are for people in terms of mask wearing,” Dr. Hawkins said. Ask things like, “How many families or shoots are scheduled, what’s the cleaning in between? Will there be props, and if so, what’s the cleaning for that?”

Sarita Relis, a photographer who runs her own business in Santa Barbara, CA, tells her clients up front that during her sessions, she maintains a minimum of six feet, uses zoom long lenses to maintain that distance, wears a mask the entire time, sanitizes all her equipment, and makes sure that there is no contact at any point in time. However, she echoes Melissa’s instructions that it’s extremely important to have these conversations before the shoot takes place no matter what, as not all photographers function the same.

Being flexible is also another crucial part of safely executing a photo shoot. “If someone isn’t feeling well or if someone is having any symptoms, I think [flexibility and rescheduling] is part of the conversation, too,” Hawkins added. “The date and the time may need to change for lots of reasons, whether what’s going on in the community or the individuals in your family.”

Credit: Shutterstock/Branislav Nenin

Keep the card design both lighthearted and realistic.

There’s no denying that this year has been difficult, so relief in the form of holiday cards is more needed than ever. But one thing holiday card experts across the board advise senders to do when selecting a card design and message—don’t shy away from addressing the elephant in the room (aka 2020).

This could mean going the humorous route, which many companies and brands are incorporating into their holiday collection. Minted, for example, has “Still Home for the Holidays” and “It’s Been a Ruff Year,” among many other funny yet real options. Agnes Hsu, founder of Hello, Wonderful, is also predicting that trending themes like toilet paper and hand sanitizer will surface as popular holiday card ideas.

“Don’t shy away from addressing that this year has been like no other. Some of our 2020 card designs capture this message with socially distant puns and others with words that tug at the heartstrings,” Mariam Naficy, founder and CEO of Minted, said. “Your card represents a moment in time and recipients love cards that surprise, delight and reflect ‘the real.’”

Create a penning timeline based on the size of your receipt list.

If you’re also a holiday card procrastinator, creating some kind of penning timeline might be what saves you. After all, the most time consuming part is often writing the messages and/or addressing the envelopes for each card.

For those who have a longer list of recipients, Dayna Isom Johnson, Etsy’s resident trend expert, suggests creating a schedule to keep you on track. “Start by deciding on the list of recipients and collecting their contact information well in advance of when you plan on sending out cards. Then, give yourself a timeline and stick to it—I recommend starting the process as early as October with a goal of sending out the cards in early November.”

However, if you’re only sending out cards to your closet friends and family, Duncan says that you can schedule a night (or two!) to knock out the bunch. “Sit down in the evening with a glass of wine (and maybe some pumpkin pie!) and write your cards,” Duncan suggests. I don’t know about you, but she had me at wine and pumpkin pie.

Credit: kikovic

When addressing envelopes, write as clearly as possible.

It would be a shame to go through all the trouble of planning, designing, ordering, writing, then shipping out your mail for it only to be returned to you because of the envelope. To avoid this, Kim Frum, a public relations representative at USPS, emphasized the importance of knowing how to properly address your envelopes before popping them in the mailbox.

“Make sure the address is printed clearly on the outside and include all address elements, such as apartment numbers and directional information (ex: 123 S Main St. Apt. 2B),” Frum said. “Don’t forget to include a return address, [and] never guess the zip code. If there is any doubt, look it up on our website.”

Send your cards out starting as early as the beginning of November.

The USPS posted their 2020 Holiday Mailing Deadlines guide, which details when senders should be mailing letters for expected delivery by Dec. 25, categorized by domestic, international, and military locations. The quick version is: ground shipping to domestic addresses needs to be out by Dec. 15; for international, Nov. 30; for military overseas, by Nov. 6.

However, Frum said the post office receives a major spike in mail traffic two weeks before Christmas, which means it might not be the best idea to send your cards out at the very last second.

To avoid putting strain on the USPS and risk cards being late, Peters suggests sending out your cards as soon as realistically possible. “While late November to mid-December is typical timing for holiday cards, we think it’s totally acceptable and probably welcome from your family and friends if you send earlier this year,” Peters said. “I’m planning on putting mine in the mail by Halloween so that my cards can help usher in the holiday season for my friends and family, and I can be confident that they will arrive in plenty of time.”

Credit: Shutterstock/S_Photo

And, most importantly, do not stress.

Look, 2020 has been stressful enough, so sending out holiday cards shouldn’t add to that. Along every step of this process, be kind to yourself. Make your recipient list shorter, don’t do DIY because you “have extra time this year,” don’t obsess over making the card picture perfect, and—perhaps what I emphasize most—it’s not the end of the world if your cards arrive late. And e-cards are always an option. (My go-to: Greetings Island—it’s free!).