Jenny Mathews, contributing writer

Some watch for the first snowfall, others the carols on the radio or the twinkle of the first home in the neighborhood to turn on their Christmas lights. For me, I watch the mailbox for that first Christmas card of the season to arrive. Then, I know, it’s officially Christmastime!

Historians believe the first Christmas card was sent by Sir Henry Cole, a prominent English educator and socialite, in 1843 as a way to more efficiently respond to his overwhelming collection of Christmas letters arriving by the dozens each day that holiday season. Lucky for Cole, he had an artist friend who sketched out an illustration of his family celebrating around a holiday table (complete with young children drinking wine), which was then copied onto thick cardboard and printed with the salutation: “A Merry Christmas and A Happy New Year To You,” with “To:______,”  at the top, and “From:______,” at the bottom, allowing him to quickly personalize each card. The tradition was born, along with the greeting card industry.

I remember sitting with my mother and stacks of envelopes, perhaps hundreds, containing a store-bought card, a photograph, and a full-page letter. My job was to seal them with a wet sponge. Since having our own family, my husband and I took up the tradition and have cherished and kept a collection of our favorite cards each year.  Many believe the tradition is dying, but perhaps it is only evolving. Email, texting, and social media have made it easier to keep in touch year-round, and have also created a space for imaginative and modern takes on the age-old tradition of sending a holiday greeting.

While some may still prefer the lovely illustrations and sentiments contained in store-bought cards, others, like myself, prefer a photo card, and still others, a letter with photos.  Digital options might be an Instagram or Facebook post, an e-card, video, or even a gif or meme. I had a friend send a mix of favorite Christmas songs on CD once. There are more options than ever!


Since photo cards seem to be the most popular choice, here are nine ideas I have gathered:

  1. Create a photo collage of family pictures from that year, or of each of the family members (including pets) using one of the many apps available.
  2. Using Photoshop or another editing software, put your family’s heads over a cartoon image drawn by one of your children.
  3. Have one photo of each family member in a line-up accompanied by a quote from them that alludes to something “naughty” they did this year.
  4. In your family photo, above each person’s head, list something on that person’s Christmas wish list.
  5. Recreate a scene from your favorite Christmas movie, take a photo, and turn it into a card.
  6. Play on the words from a line of your favorite Christmas song or movie and do a photo representation for the card.
  7. Recreate an old family Christmas card photo and include as many details as possible, consider including the original card itself.
  8. Poke fun at your favorite popular character, TV show, or other pop culture reference by creating an image using that theme.
  9. Create a collage of family photo “outtakes.”

I really love candid photos from a family’s vacation that year, or a beautiful professional photo shoot in a gorgeous Cache Valley location. No matter if you send a card with a stamp, composed in an email, or posted online, the key is to keep this lovely tradition alive and let your family’s unique personality shine.