Six tips for sending unique holiday cards

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AUSTIN, Texas — Halloween decorations are on clearance, malls are packed and I've had to wear a sweater twice this week. All of this can only mean one thing: Christmas is on its way!

Sending and receiving cards is one of my favorite things about the holidays, because it allows us all to travel back to a time when snail mail and hard copies were the norm. Although setting up an appointment with a photographer and getting the family together to take a photo sounds like a huge holiday chore, it doesn't have to be. Some tips for organizing your holiday card strategy this season.

Do something creative. Austin photographer Eric Doggett started Austin Christmas Cards, www.austinchristmascards.com, in 2008 with a mission of shooting and designing memorable cards for clients. "I think a little bit of extra effort can go a long way toward making something memorable," Doggett said. "A lot of families will have a nice photo of them taken in front of their house or on the grass somewhere. Or it might just be a shot of the kids. And while those are great images, they are just like most of the cards that we all receive every year. Take a few minutes and talk about a fun scenario that you can do."

Send the appropriate message. Don't forget that the holiday you celebrate isn't the only holiday celebrated. Sometimes a simple "Happy Holidays" is your safest bet.

Keep it humble. It's tempting to use your card to tell everyone about all the awesome things your family has done in the past year, but bragging about your trip to Spain or your daughter's acceptance to Harvard isn't always in good holiday spirit. Plus, chances are good your family and friends are already aware of your accomplishments. Unless you want to become part of other families' tradition of being made fun of for your obnoxious cards, try to keep your message simple.

Make a list, check it twice. Write a list of all the households you'll be sending cards to, then order that many cards plus some. You may receive cards from people you didn't expect, so it's good to have a small reserve. Doggett says he updates a holiday card contact list on his computer each year.

Gather mailing materials in advance. Try to find a holiday card package that includes envelopes and maybe even stamps. This way you're not scrambling to put everything together at the last minute.

Mail your cards as soon as possible. December is the busiest time for the U.S. Postal Service. Next year, have your cards ready to send by the first week of December.