If there's anything that brings out the creative urge in us, it's Christmas.
A Christmas card with a photograph of our family is usually the first kind of handmade card we think of, and rightly so; it's intimate and unique. No one else can send it, nor would we send it to anyone except warm friends and relatives.
The first thing to do is plan your picture carefully. If you have a fine picture of the family taken one Christmas, it's quite sensible to save it for the following year's cards. The picture has the spontaneity of having been taken at the right moment, and holiday spirit shines out of it.
The house is trimmed, the tree is up, and there are unmistakable evidences in the background of the season. For these reasons, it's a good picture to select for your card, and it precludes the necessity of setting the stage for a Christmas picture in November, in time for processing.
Where there are young children in the family, however, who grow and change so much in a year (or, even more so, where there is a new member of the family), the good picture from the year before seems outdated, and you'll want to prepare a new one. It's possible, of course, to simulate a holiday picture with decorations or wreaths that are saved from year to year, and arranged to form a background that seems authentic.
This kind of picture, when successful, can be very effective. But if you'd rather not pretend that it's Christmas a month ahead of time, snap a good scene of Christmas preparations; the children writing a letter to Santa Claus, everyone in the kitchen making gingerbread cookies, Dad and the children checking strings of tree lights (which are lit) to see if they're ready for the big day.
A snow scene of your house or, in any climate, a shot of your front door wreathed for the holiday, is an excellent idea for a card-picture. Let your photographic imagination guide you, and take a picture that speaks best of your own family life.
Once you have your picture, take the negative to your camera store. If you want a printed card, ask to see samples of photographic printing paper on which holiday messages are already printed. They are designed in such a way as to show your picture to good advantage.
You can order almost any number of these cards, and they are not very expensive.
If you'd rather design your own card, remember the precaution for all handmade cards: buy your envelopes first, as soon as you've determined the size of your card but before you've made any of them. Pretty envelopes for cards come in several standard sizes, and it's easier to make your cards to fit the envelopes you've decided upon than the other way around.
For your own snapshots, a card of folded paper with a cutout window shows them in an interesting way. Use construction paper, parchment, or fairly stiff gift-wrapping paper (not tissue wrap). Use a razor blade to cut out the window; try different shapes of window to find the one that frames your picture best.
The window needn't expose the entire picture: if your picture is a little off center or has uninteresting areas, arrange the window to make it appear centered, or to show only its best features. The window can be round, too; use a compass for this. Make slits to hold the picture, or use hinges.
Simple designs are also very good as the background for a picture. Make a tree shape of strips of colored tape. Or daub green finger paint to suggest a wreath on a card with a round cutout.
You have the entire assortment of paints, seals and tapes to choose from in decorating your card, but take care that you do not in your enthusiasm overwhelm your picture with a too-fancy card. The picture itself is precious to your friends and family, so let it stand out.
Above all have fun in designing your card, and enjoy sending it to those who love you!
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