Every December, they come in the mail, little paper reminders of friends and family far away. They may include a heartfelt message or newsy tidbits that endear their senders. Or they may just be charming in their simplicity.
Whether they bring smiles or tears, the emotions they trigger are genuine parts of our holiday spirit. That's why we treasure these colorful greetings that symbolize so much in a such a simple form.
This month, dozens of Bee readers shared stories of favorite holiday cards. Often, the card itself was pretty straightforward. Its added meaning made it special.
It's not just the getting but the sending. Several readers offered examples of creative approaches to the traditional family Christmas card often with an unusual twist.
Here are some of our favorites:
Carmichael graphic artist Jennifer McLane annually makes a special family card.
"My wife spends an inordinate amount of time and energy every year making a silly or unusual holiday card to represent our family," Keith McLane said. "You could say it's her 'thing.'
"Last year's card had a Japanese manga theme where she made each member of our family into a character based on a Japanese comic series. This year, she dressed us all up as 'Star Wars' characters and made mini-movie posters to mail. She started shopping for our costumes in August. Our family really enjoys the process especially the dog."
This Christmas, the pooch appears as Chewbacca.
Other families also made the annual holiday a major production.
"My parents enjoyed personalizing Christmas cards with photos of me and my sisters when we lived in Southern California," said Janet Clinton of Placerville. "The year of my youngest sister's first Christmas, she was wrapped in 'swaddling' white sheets and placed in my older sister's doll cradle while we were dressed as Joseph and Mary.
"A few years later, I recall a long, complaint-filled weekend drive to the desert to find the perfect dunes so my dad could get a picture of us as the Three Wise Men," Clinton added. "While I didn't appreciate it then, I look back fondly on our dress-up tradition now."
Candy Tutt of Woodland, another graphic designer, creates an annual Christmas postcard usually with a humorous twist. Among her themes: Santa sailing over a trailer park, a smiling Buddha and a make-your-own ornament.
"I began designing Christmas cards during the '80s in graphic arts at UC Davis, switching to postcards for cheaper postage," Tutt said. "I love the yearly challenge to create new art, and friends never know what to expect."
Exotic vacation locations form favorite holiday backdrops.
Davis and Cathy McLallen of Davis have 45 years of such photo cards.
"The 2005 cards stands out," Cathy McLallen noted. "The children were grown and on their own. We parents were visiting our oldest daughter, Kelly, who was a teacher in Libreville, Gabon, Africa."
The parents accompanied their daughter on a field trip to Point Denis to "witness huge leatherback turtles crawl up on the beach, lay their eggs and return to the water." A snapshot of their beach trip became their Christmas greeting.
One photo card led to a reunion and much more.
"We lived overseas for six years and a Christmas letter with a picture seemed the best way to keep in touch with friends around the world," said Joan Rose of Roseville. "In 2007, one of our sons moved to Hawaii and our picture that year was of all of us under water, scuba diving. The caption was 'Peace on Earth and Under Water.'
"As a result of that card and letter, our neighbor's daughter from our overseas days who was also living in Hawaii contacted our son," Rose added. "They had not seen each other since they were age 6 and 7."
The former childhood friends are now engaged to be married in Honolulu in March.
A summer sky in Lincoln inspired Roseville's Tom and Carol Lumbrazo. A cloud looked just like a certain bearded gentleman in a sleigh.
"It was a real sighting of Santa Claus," Tom Lumbrazo said.
They snapped a photo that became their Christmas card, with the addition of photos of the couple as toddlers "to symbolize the magic that Christmas brings. We emailed (the card) to our friends, and gave them to strangers as the magic of Santa goes well beyond children. It reaches all people."
Creative personalized greetings go far beyond photos. Vicki Foote of Gold River memorialized her mother with a hand-painted card.
"My mom, Helene, who passed away some years ago, used to make ornaments for the holidays by knitting or using sequins to make wonderful creations that she gave to us as gifts," Foote said. "I enjoy painting, so I found one of her ornaments that was especially meaningful and did a small painting of it, which I printed and made into cards. The ornament is an angel, and for our family, the angel on the card is in her honor and a symbol of our mother's talent and love."
Rosalie Rashid of Sacramento always looks forward to creative cards from her sister-in-law, Laura. This year's handmade card was a hand-tatted wreath, commemorating both the holiday and the 200th anniversary of this needlecraft.
"This greeting card is the star of all her cards," Rashid said. "It needs no written message, for the symbol of the Christmas wreath holds the depths of meanings to the moments of the year just past a circle of many events now closed."
Woodworker Bob Beckert of Carmichael cuts card stock on his scroll saw. Each card is hand-cut. "Our family and friends consider them to be unique gifts," said his wife, Doris.
Ted Marois of Sacramento creates intricate scenes for his annual Christmas cards. This year's hand-drawn card features Santa with two canine helpers.
"I have been making my Christmas cards for many years to send to relatives and friends, some of whom I rarely see during the year," Marois said. "It's a good way to stay in touch."
Lillian Montgomery shared a beautiful card made by her Norwegian cousin, May. "We have a very special bond," she added. "When I grew up over there, we were (among) 42 cousins. And now May and I are two of the six that are left."
Cindy Adams of Sacramento looks forward to cards from her mother. Each is one of a kind.
"For the past nine years, my mom has hand-painted with watercolors the Christmas cards for myself and my siblings," Adams said. "Each one is unique, and I can't wait to see what each year will bring. I will cherish these beautiful cards forever. She is a very talented painter and the best mom anyone could ever ask for."
Filled with memories
Some cards gain meaning with passing years.
Roseville's Merle and Patricia Ruggles shared a card from their son, Tim, that they received in 1985. He was killed the following February.
"Every year, we put the card up for display," the Ruggles wrote. "It brings back good memories. It is a little worn but very cherished."
A 55-year-old Parisian Christmas card, now lovingly framed, reminds Folsom's Dorothy Lauritzen of a holiday trip and a beloved son, now gone.
"In 1956, my husband an Air Force sergeant and I lived in Madrid, Spain," Lauritzen recalled. "A friend from Alaska visited us and talked me into a trip to Paris. Our son, Dennis, was two months old. She and I spent a whirlwind three days in Paris.
"I bought several Christmas cards and kept this one for 40 years in a trunk, then I had it framed," she added, noting that Dennis who became a local teacher died of leukemia last year.
Sometimes, the act of sending out the cards is a gift.
"My beloved mother passed away on Dec. 6, 2008, due to breast cancer," said Stephanie Munch of Elk Grove. "I went through the motions of buying a tree and gifts, but my heart was not in it.
"My neighbor, Jonee Bouyer, did something very special," she added. "Without me asking, she took a photo she had of my family, and she had my Christmas cards made for me to send out! I remember looking at her with amazement what an unexpected thoughtful gift! I was able to send out Christmas cards that year, and I will never forget her thoughtfulness and how she helped me to keep the holiday spirit alive."
Sacramento's Vangie Schoening and her sister, Mary, recycle their greetings.
"In 1979, when I was 28 years and my sister Mary was 16, she sent me a humorous 'blue' Christmas card," said Schoening. "I saved it and returned it to her the next year. We've been exchanging this card for 34 years.
"Some years, only a name and year appear, but some years have documented marriages, children, a grandchild, new houses, new century, as well as family sadnesses. Although some years, the card has been temporarily lost in the sender's home, it has never been late for Christmas."
Martha Fancher of Auburn shared a family tradition that could inspire others.
"My family resisted the urge to open Christmas cards as they arrived and saved them until Christmas Eve," she said. "We all sat in the living room with a cheery fire in the fireplace and my mother would open the cards one by one to read and pass them around for all to enjoy. It made the cards seem like Christmas presents."
That shared warmth of holiday cheer can be the best gift of all.
Editor's note: This story has been changed to fix a misspelling of Candy Tutt's name.