- Associated Press - Monday, December 5, 2011

The Santa hats, beach background or dressed-up dog in the holiday card photo might be saying more than “Merry Christmas” or “Happy New Year.”

The image can be a snapshot of the past 12 months: where you’ve been, what you’re thinking, your outlook, your outfits.

Yes, it’s a big message to come in a 5-by-7 envelope, but you already knew a picture could be worth a thousand words. Now consider that this card might be the only piece of snail mail you send to your loved ones all year. While email and social media make it easy to stay in frequent communication with far-flung friends and relatives, those tweets, texts and updates can be deleted or forgotten as quickly as they arrive.

A holiday card, in contrast, “is really a chance to make a statement,” said Kemper Johnson, visual director of MyPublisher.com, an online custom publishing site.

“You’re creating your own greeting card. It has meaning, and most people you’re sending it to will know that it’s your home in the background or the vacation you were on, or it’s an introduction to you and your family to a new friend,” he said.

So are you the traditionalist who lines the family up in front of the fireplace? The goofball who each year dresses up her Chihuahua in a new sequined frock? The proud parent who wants to show off the family’s football star and best ballerina on the same card?

The right photo will look different for each family, and likely will be a different type each year, said Meg Bohnert, card stylist for Shutterfly, an online photo site. You’ll know it when you see it, she said.

Her advice: “You want a photo that is ‘in a moment.’ “

That doesn’t mean perfect, though. Sometimes it’s the frame shot just before or after the posed photo that better captures the real family dynamic.

Next, think about color. That means not only the background and text but also the hues of your clothes or the setting, said TV style adviser Jeannie Mai. “Color is what will jump out of the envelope first.”

White, for example, is a way to “hit the reset button” and convey a change, either in look or lifestyle, she said, while peach or blush tones say “romance - that you’re feeling lovey dovey.”

If you like a strong, polished look, consider browns and grays mixed with black, suggested Miss Mai, who hosts Style Network’s “How Do I Look?”

She envisions her own card this year to feature a natural, woodsy setting with fresh greenery. “I want my card to say to my recipient that there’s a new year ahead and a lot to look forward to.”

Other tips:

• Black and white: This is either nostalgic or modern, Mr. Johnson said. With the traditional trappings - those Fair Isle sweaters, plaids or snowy landscapes - your message is one of a classic, timeless holiday greeting, he said, while something sleek without clutter is more sophisticated and subtle.

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