A personal photograph
It doesn't have to be professionally shot, although those are certainly pretty. But I prefer a blurry camera phone image to no photograph at all. But above all? Make it a photograph of the whole family, not just the kids or the dog. I know this is controversial. I know many, many families choose to omit the people who pay the mortgage from the holiday card. What I fail to understand is why. We want to see you. We want to see the family as a unit. I am immediately suspect of those who leave themselves out of their own holiday card.
A personalized greeting
There was a time in my life (um, pre-parenthood) when I handmade all of my Christmas cards. I had very high holiday card standards back then. I have since abandoned them all. (Mostly.) There are so very many card companies out there with beautiful designs and reasonable rates, I have jumped on the digital bandwagon for the cards themselves. But I do appreciate — and I know others do, too — a quickly jotted, "Dear _____" or "We can't wait to see you soon!" or even simply, "Thinking of you." Nothing makes it feel more like junk mail than printed labels, printed salutations and no sign that anything touched the card except a machine.
The common thread here is that something about your holiday card should be personal. It should feel like there is a sentiment between the receiver and the sender (and being on one's mailing list does not a connection make). I suppose, if you really have to choose one thing over the other, I prefer a photograph card with no handwriting, or a bare handwritten card over nothing. But most of the time, when I receive a family photograph where the pen touched the paper, holiday squealing will ensue.
Author's Picks^ A few places to print your holiday cards if you haven't yet: Tiny Prints, Minted, Paper Culture, Costco, Shutterfly, OfficeMax ImPress Print Center and even your local FedEx Office will do a decent job. Happy mailing!