Skip the boxed cards. This year, put a personal spin on the holidays with handcrafted holiday sentiments that trump any ready-made greeting.
It's the perfect activity for keeping kids busy during unexpected snow days and a surefire boredom buster during the long holiday vacation.
"Handmade greeting cards show off your unique style and your creativity," says Lish Dorset of Handmade Detroit, the crafters collaborative behind the annual Detroit Urban Craft Fair.
Crafted cards don't have to be fancy to make a statement.
"It sounds clich?d, but it's really the thought that counts, and creating your own cards can be very inexpensive when compared with boxed greeting cards," Dorset says.
Have the kids sketch Santa, Rudolph or Frosty, scan the artwork and print their masterpieces on blank cards from your home computer. Let the kids clip snowflakes the old-fashioned way -- folding the paper a few times and snipping -- and use them to adorn the fronts of the finished cards.
Want to add a personal photo to the design? Think black and white.
"Photos are a great way to go. Print them in grayscale, and let your children color them and add their favorite extras, like sequins or stickers," Dorset says.
You might be surprised at what you and the kids come up with once you start brainstorming.
The point is to send a little piece of yourself to faraway friends and family, according to crafting experts Jennifer O'Neil and Kitty O'Neil, whose columns appear regularly in magazines, including Crafts 'n Things, Create & Decorate and Country Accents.
"People get tens, if not hundreds, of Christmas cards. Why not make yours stand out from the rest?" Kitty O'Neil asks. "When the recipient opens a handmade card from you, they feel your presence on the other end."
So put on some festive music; brew up a batch of killer hot chocolate; and get ready to get crafty.
Need extra inspiration? Gather your supplies; wrangle the kids; and set to work on these quick and clever holiday cards that aren't like everyone else's:
STRING IT TOGETHER
Send a string of joyous gingerbread men clipped from brown paper bags.
"Stand-up holiday motifs cut paper doll-style are elegant and inexpensive," says professional illustrator Joanne Gilbert, owner of DrawntoLetters, which specializes in personalized note cards and prints.
Start with a long strip of paper trimmed to 4 inches high. Paper grocery bags, rolls of butcher paper or oversized cardstock from the art supply store work well.
Fold the paper accordion-style; trace your design on the top fold; and start clipping. Just remember to choose simple shapes, such as stars or trees.
"The trick is to connect the motif on each side so when you open it, it forms a chain," Gilbert says. "They have the dual advantage of being both a greeting card and a foldout decoration that can be used on a windowsill, mantel or tree."
Don't have access to long sheets of paper? Cut individual designs, and string the shapes together with festive ribbon.
"I added tiny green string bows at the junctures of kissing doves one year and red and white bakery string bows between gingerbread men. It looks festive, like candy cane accents," Gilbert says.
Embellish the garland with a long horizontal greeting, or have each family member sign and decorate one page of the card. Add button eyes to gingerbread figures or paper stars to trees.
STAMP IT UP
To make multiple cards in a flash, pick up a rubber stamp. From whimsical winter fairies to classic snowmen and Santa, craft stores offer a wide selection of holiday-inspired stamps.
Stamp the design in black ink, and have the kids accent the images with marker or colored pencil. Have them add a few holiday-themed embellishments, such as stick-on rhinestones, glitter, die-cut accents and ribbon. You'll have a stack of masterpieces in no time.
"Go with an assembly line approach to creating the cards," Dorset says. "Decide what your design will be, and make all of the pieces at the same time. You'll find the creation and assembly goes much more quickly that way."
Add an extra element to the design by stamping the image on colored paper and then trimming the finished piece to fit the front of the card, and adhere with glue.
"Since you're not stamping on the blank card, you can mess up all you want and not waste the cards, but don't go for perfection," Jennifer O'Neil says. "The idea is to make them look handmade."