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6 Ways to Design a More Festive Holiday Letter

Dress up the annual family holiday newsletter this year

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Do you send holiday letters out to family and friends? This year, why not make it a little fancier, a little more fun than just a typed letter. Treat your holiday letter as an annual newsletter full of family member updates, photos from throughout the year, and maybe even a reason to keep it past the new year by including upcoming birthdays and special events. And of course, dress it up with bright colors and fancy fonts.

You're in charge of the content, but use some of these ideas to charge up of the look and visual appeal of your letter.

1. Choose a pretty paper.

Holiday Letterhead
Use Holiday Letterhead; Image courtesy of PriceGrabber

Print your letter on photo paper and you can include eye-popping photos. I've received holiday letters that included separate photos in the envelope and that's perfectly OK. But consider printing an appropriate photo or two accompanying your text, with captions, and perhaps a decorative border printed right on it.

New for 2013: Printable Holiday Stationery.

  1. Christmas Star in Red/Green
  2. Bough, Bow, and Lovely Ornaments
  3. Stylized Christmas Tree in Shades of Green
  4. Snow & Star Blue Border

You can also purchase holiday letterhead (compare prices) or Christmas letterhead (compare prices) in fun colors or with graphics or borders. Just be sure not to use paper that is too dark or you won't have enough contrast between paper and text. For Christmas, green and red may be traditional colors but they aren't good background colors for reading black text. It's usually best to stick with shades of white or lighter colors such as pale blue. If you'll be printing photos and graphics in your letter they'll tend to look better on white. Any white colors in the graphic or photo will show through as the color of the paper. You could end up with a green snowman.

You can buy paper with decorative borders or print your own right on your own plain or photo paper. If your holiday letter runs to two pages, instead of repeating the border, pull out a small graphic detail for page two. If using pre-printed border paper, get a matching color of paper (or plain white) for page two. Unless you've chosen a very subtle or simple border style having it on every page of the letter can be overpowering. Having trouble finding holiday stationery you like? Take a look at scrapbooking papers. They often come in square formats such as 12"x12" but if your printer can handle that size it can make for an interesting holiday letter. Look for them in standard letter sizes too.

2. Name your newsletter.

Create a decorate nameplate.
Use a name, a decorative font, or both for your title; free Toy Train font shown.

If you want to keep it fairly simple, just put your family name or a simple holiday greeting in a decorative font at the top of your letter. Use alliteration for titles such as Tarry Times, Lewis Ledger, Parker Post, or Hamilton Herald.

While it is best to use basic serif or sans serif fonts for most of your letter to keep it easily readable, you can get fancy with the title. If your chosen paper includes a strong border or a graphic image at the top, don't get too fancy with your title or the images may clash.

If you want to go with a winter or Christmas theme for your title, try one of these fonts:

Note that many of the fonts are for personal use only — which is fine for your Christmas newsletter, but don't use them in any commercial projects.

As long as you aren't using a paper with a border, frame the newsletter name if you want to make it stand out more (too many framed elements make your letter too busy or fussy). You can even add a dateline or a simple holiday greeting as part of the nameplate.

3. Use a newsletter format.

Family Holiday Newsletter template for Microsoft Word
Borrow your layout from a template such as this Family Holiday Newsletter for Microsoft Word.

Letters and newsletters can both be in a single column but you can make your letter extra special by using two or three side-by-side columns, even if your newsletter is a single page. Although a newsletter can have as many as 12 parts you don't have to get that fancy with your holiday letter. Leave out the table of contents, page numbers, bylines, and any other parts that don't make sense for your letter.

Free newsletter templates make it easy to do columns and offer a variety of layout options depending on how many photos you want to include or what software you are using. Microsoft Office even has a Family holiday newsletter template. If you don't already own software that easily does newsletters, consider one of these:

4. Start your letter with a decorative drop cap.

This drop cap is a colored in version of the S from the free XmasAlpha font.
Drop in a big letter. This is a colored in version of the S from the free XmasAlpha font.

Drop caps or initial caps are larger letters often used as the first letter of an article and sometimes at the start of new sections of the same article. They help to draw a reader into your text. And if you aren't using a multi-column layout, a fancy title, or a lot of pictures, the drop cap adds a touch of visual interest that might otherwise be missing.

You don't have to be using desktop publishing software to add a drop cap. Today's word processing software usually has a drop cap feature. Or, you can insert a graphic in place of the first letter for something even fancier or for multi-colored drop caps. Use a font such as Candy Cane or Christmas for your drop cap. If you want it in multiple colors, use your graphics software to color it and turn it into a graphic that you insert at the start of your text. The font XmasAlpha is a good candidate for turning into a colorful graphic. Each letter features a Christmas theme such as the stocking-wearing mouse for M, Santa with S, or an L encircled with lights. I've taken each of these letters and colored them myself. Use the letters you like:

  1. Download this image of all 26 letters of the XmasAlpha font already colored (it's a 2550 x 3300 pixel PNG graphic).
  2. Open it in your graphics software.
  3. Use the selection tools to select one of the letters.
  4. Copy just that letter to a new file.
  5. Save the image.
  6. Import that letter into your word processing or desktop publishing software and place it in your holiday letter. (Don't forget to re-write the first word to exclude the letter you're using as a drop cap).

5. Sign your letter.

This is the free Freebooter Script font with a few alternate letters.
Sign your letter in script. This is the free Freebooter Script font with a few alternate letters.

You could scan your signature to insert at the end of your letter (along with signatures of all the kids and other family members) or write it with a graphics tablet. Or, if you don't like your own handwriting but want the friendliness of a handwritten name, use a handwriting font.

An elegant script font such as the beautiful and popular Freebooter Script adds a lovely flourish to your signature. Or try something a little quirky such as the girlish Caffe Latte.

Or, turn your own handwriting into a font that you can use over and over again.

  • With Fontifier you print a template, fill in with your own handwriting, scan it and upload to get your font for just $9.00
  • Another online font generator, YourFonts let's you also turn your signature into a character. They charge $9.95 for the basic font.
  • Want your font for free? That's what FontCapture says they'll provide. As with the other services, get a template, fill it out, scan it and upload.

6. Deliver your letter in style.

The USPS issues holiday-themed stamps.
Send your letter in a holiday-themed envelope. Try the 2011 Holiday Baubles Forever Stamp.

If you purchased decorative paper, it often comes with matching envelopes. If not, dress up plain envelopes with stickers, to and from holiday labels (compare prices) or print directly on the envelope. Something as simple as a gold seal on the flap (compare prices) can immediately communicate to the recipient that there's something special inside. Some decorative papers come with self-adhesive seals in the package.

You can also use the Holiday Stamps available from the US Postal Service such as Gingerbread Houses (a Forever Stamp) or Global Holiday: Evergreen Wreath, a distinctive round stamp for sending letters internationally.

And if you don't already live in a town with a Christmas-y name, you could send your letters for Christmas re-mailing to get a postmark from Bethlehem, Christmas, Holly, North Pole, Snowflake, or other appropriately named cities in the United States.

7. Bonus: Send Anonymous Holiday Letters and Gifts to Your Neighbors

Spread good cheer around your neighborhood. At About.com Family Crafts, Sherri Osborn has gift ideas that each include a special letter. Get the gift suggestions and letter wording here. Use pretty paper, clip art, or fonts to dress up your Ghost of Christmas Spirit, Spirit of the Holidays, or 'Twas the Weeks Before Christmas Surprise Letters.

Neighborhood Christmas Gift Letters

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