I have many wonderful Christmas memories. Eating Morton’s Honey Buns on the coffee table while sitting on my new wooden race car, or drinking too many eggnogs late on Christmas Eve are up top. But my favorite holiday tradition started when I was in college.
My family is pretty creative. My mom’s a great writer and artist, my dad’s a craftsman, and my sister is a well-rounded crafty lady. We never sent the traditional family photo Christmas card, but when I was in art school, we’d dream up a scenario, I’d draw it in pen and ink, and we’d have the print shop create cards. Early illustrations are of my family decked in Santa hats on my dad’s Harley (the daughters in a sidecar) and as a choreographed figure skating team . They were wry: Yeah, Christmas, we got this.
Around 2002, we decided to up the ante. We wanted to imagine these scenarios, and make them happen. We discovered Uncle Buck’s Teeth that year. Tacky Christmas sweaters were on the cusp of being a thing. We donned our cheesy apparel and headed to the nearest Sears Portrait Studio. The photographer – God bless her – couldn’t hold a straight face. We tried to hold it together too, but how can you when your dad’s wearing a dickie? We had a really good time cracking up the bystanders and ourselves. The outcome was a perfectly deranged pic of our family with cavity-ridden buck teeth and jingle bell sweaters.
Needless to say, Grandma didn’t think it was funny. However, many recipients did and the seed was planted.
The next year, we dressed as elves roasting marshmallows around a fire pit. Employing a friend as the amateur photographer, we did the photo shoot at a local nursery, in costume-store elf-wear (my mom returned them afterwards). Then, snow angels, a Mad Men-era family, and a 1980s ski squad. We all brainstorm the concepts. My mom’s a teacher, and eventually became her school’s musical producer. This meant access to the costume closet – the door was opened to wigs, mustaches, accessories, musical instruments, and other props.
My sister and I met and married our husbands. One unspoken preliminary requirement was their aptitude for this holiday ritual. Good news: they are, because they were happy to wear stretch pants and gold-trimmed jackets for our Olympic ice skating team photo at Wal-Mart, and we were all married within a year. (Ice skating seems to be a theme; I guess we really wanted to bring that illustration to life!)
Not long after, babies arrived. Edie was inaugurated when we were a German lederhosen and dirndl gang. Dave wasn’t able to make the shoot from Seattle, so we took his pic in our backyard, and my brother in law Photoshopped him in. This opened our eyes to the unlimited possibilities of digital editing. Every year, we improve our methods with costumes, photography, and backdrop. Or we simply do the shoots in my parents’ house and fill in the backdrop.
Every year, we receive feedback from family and friends: they love the card, and getting it is one the season’s highlights. This tradition is very much for us, but I love that we work hard to surprise them and make them smile. The collaborative creative process is really satisfying.
Now there are 10 of us; four are very young children. My husband thought up this year’s concept. My mom, sister, and I have fun researching the time period and tracking down costumes and props. My dad is a good sport and wears whatever. My brother-in-law is the awesome digital editor and card-orderer. The kids are a wild card; we placate them with M&Ms. My favorite part of this year’s card may be my nephew Julien’s face: appropriately, WTF?
Here are a few outtakes from this year’s photo shoot. Happy Holidays!!