Over the past decade, I’ve been sending out the family Christmas cards later and later. A few years ago, in an effort to remove one item from my very full December “to do” list, they officially became New Year’s cards.
Now that it’s mid-January, a big stack of cards is ready to be addressed and mailed. As I’ve incorporated my mother’s list of friends into our own, the stack has grown taller.
I enjoy receiving personalized holiday cards. A pastor friend once remarked that he considered only biblical images as appropriate subjects for Christmas cards. I disagree, respectfully. I appreciate a card with an artfully painted starlit manger scene or a medieval Madonna and Child. But I also welcome one that shows a friend’s new baby, the kids, the dog, the recent bride and groom, the whole family. The annual holiday card exchange, as I see it, is a fortuitous way to keep a connection alive with those we care about, yet don’t have opportunities to see frequently. I understand that just because the card’s accompanying message may be one of Christmas cheer, there is no assertion that the family members pictured are endowed with the holiness of the Christ child. That friend is telling me this: Another year has passed, and we continue to think of you. Our shared relationship matters. And here’s what we look like now.
My parents were reluctant photographers. When we had a working camera during my childhood, we often lacked the requisite flash bulbs (something only those of a certain age will understand.) We never went to a photo studio for a posed family picture. We got one of those every few years when the new church directory came out. Of course we didn’t send photo cards at Christmas.
It took parenthood for me to consider the idea. The year our daughter turned one, my mother made an elf costume for her out of soft, fuzzy fleece. That began my custom of the annual Christmas photo session. I’d dress D in a festive outfit sewn by Mama, either expressly for her, or passed down from my childhood. (As I’ve noted before, we’re a family of savers. We keep, we re-use, we re-purpose.) For our Christmas card that year, I bought standard cards and included a photo of D in elf attire. (See “Our Baby Elf,” December 2014.)
The following year, our daughter moved to the front of the card. My early photo card efforts were low-tech. I bought Christmas cards featuring a border that I liked, cut out the central image and pasted a photo behind it. This is clearly visible in the card at the top of the post.
In 2007, our new puppy joined the household and began to be featured with our daughter in the Christmas photo. Above, D, age eight, holds three-month old Kiko. She wears a Nordic style fleece jacket and hat made by my mother. Kiko wears a red fleece vest, also made by Mama. This marked one of the last times that we tried to put our dog in clothes.
As both D and Kiko approached their adolescent years, they became less willing subjects for my photography, no matter the occasion. But we still managed a few sweet pictures.
When I switched to a digital photo printing service, more possibilities opened up. It became easier to include multiple pictures on the annual card, including highlights from throughout the year. The December photo shoot was no longer a necessity. Sometimes my husband, my mother and I even make it onto the card, typically in smaller photos. Our distant friends have proof that we’re still alive, but they don’t have to see our aging faces too closely.
One year all humans were relegated to the back of the card, leaving the front to Kiko surveying a majestic snow.
In recent years, as Kiko moved into his senior phase, our daughter re-embraced the idea of posing with him. Above is the final daughter and dog portrait for our annual card, sent out last year.
Kiko was with us for almost seven months of 2022. He’s on our card this year, in his own photo. I caught him at his happiest, when he was asleep.
And next year? Who knows what life holds? That’s part of its beauty. We don’t know. So, anything, in theory, is possible.
May this new year bring you welcome surprises!