the seven emotional stages of christmas card picture taking aka why the hell are we doing this again?

It is that time again--the time when I attempt to capture all four of my children looking happy and festive, coordinated and cordial--it is time for the annual taking of the Christmas card picture. The three most frequent questions I get when I tell people this are: 

1. Do you have someone take the photos? 
No, I answer which leads to the second question...

2. Are you crazy? Why not? 
I could lie here and tell them that it is because I want the opportunity to bond with my kids and that this annual tradition brings us closer together. However, I detest lying. And at the end of the picture taking session we usually are anything but close. There is yelling and eventually awkward and cruel silence. Honestly, I don't  want to spend the money and there is some part of me that hopes one year I'll actually do a somewhat professional job. After all, I'm a writer and therefore artistic. Is it such a stretch to think I'd take decent photographs? Yes, yes it is. 

3. Who are you trying to impress? And why don't you just use Facebook to do it? 
I often use Facebook to drop a handsome doctored/staged photo of the family but not at Christmas. Christmas is sacred and I'm too tired. This time of year wears me down. And someday my children will have a way to remember all the changes from year to year. There seems no better time to record these changes than on the happiest and most joyous of all childhood occasions--the holiday season. 

What I've realized after almost 11 years of Christmas card picture taking is that just like grief, Christmas card picture taking also has seven stages. 

1. Shock/Disbelief

I can't believe it's that time of year again. Wasn't it just Thanksgiving? 
I almost forget every year that we need to take the picture right after the turkey holiday. I want a full month of my kids on your refrigerator or wall. You put the card up, right? I hope it is not sitting in some pile on your kitchen table with the other junk mail. I'm spending good money on these (no, they are not professional, but they have to be printed and mailed, and stamps are a King's ransom). And, I put your family on a beautiful ribbon which I hang in my doorway for all to see.

***Note: In order to prepare for the hellish nightmare picture taking extravaganza I go out and buy clothes, iron them (I'm laughing here because I haven't ironed since 1992--remember pleated Z Cavariccis?) and wait, sorry--I'm still laughing. Whew and then I make the kids try them on at which point the ten year old gets angry about wearing tan pants. I don't know why there is so much anger...

2. Denial

This usually happens just after set up which is often in front of a pretty window or a tree or the cleanest area of the house. Denial hits the kids before me. They ask questions like, "Mom, why do we have to?" or make statements like, "This is so boring, dumb, horrible, stupid..." Yes, they are fresh. Yes, I'm going to deal with it...after the holidays. Denial affects all of them with the exception of the 9 YO who believes herself to be a fashion model and would like me to take as many pictures as possible of her posing. After I make the mistake of telling her posing looks strange she joins the other children in denying that this must be done. 

Things of note in this image: The ten year old smacking his head while the nine year old does her best to arrange the other children. Yes, the four year old is trying to run away after claiming in a loud and abrasive manner that her sister is too bossy. 

3. Bargaining

This is done by me and the kids. It goes something like this: 
Me: Please guys, just a few more. Now get your hand out of your mouth. Stop hitting your sister. Don't breathe on him. I don't know why. Don't say his breathe stinks. If you sit still I'll give you something. Yes, all of you. No, I don't know what. Not a horse. I don't know what you'd have to do for a horse--maybe you can become a supermodel since you know all the poses and you can buy yourself a horse. 

15 minutes later: 
Kids: Mom, we'll sit still if you'll give us an extra treat. Maybe two extra treats. What about staying up late? And there is that horse you could buy for me. If you buy me the horse I'll stop posing. 

4. Guilt

At this point there is yelling and yes, I'll admit it, sometimes swearing. The four year old has an awful mouth as you well know and she's teaching her naughty words to her brother. His new favorite word is Jesus. As in, "Jesus, can we be done taking the picture?" I have chosen to believe he has a very close and personal relationship with the son of God. We all tell ourselves lies as parents. Either way I feel guilty for yelling and making what should be a pleasant memory a real shit show. Next year will be better. 

5. Anger

Toward each other, toward God, toward elves, toward Jesus (okay that's just the two year old--maybe he and Jesus have had a falling out). We are all angry and bitter and tired. Why do we do this every year? Why can't I get one decent picture? Who farted? Why won't anybody fess up? 
This picture proves that someone did indeed break wind. I'm not sure why the four year old is smiling so much. 

6. Depression

I am hit hardest by depression, the kids seem like they are still stuck in stage five. I assume this because the two year old is still talking to Jesus and the four year old is making up new and colorful curse words. I haven't even looked through the pictures on my phone when it hits. I know I don't have what I need. What I do have are pictures of the kids looking as though they hate each other and me and the whole holiday season. I have turned my children into one collective Grinch. I can't believe I am going to have another year of family asking why the hell I chose that picture--with the 4 YO and her runny nose, or the two year old with his thumb in his mouth--didn't I have a better one? If I did, don't they think I would have used it? 

You could cut the tension with a machete or a pair of craft scissors. Either way they are pissed as evidenced by the nine year old's frown and the two year old's gafrump face. The poor ten year old is doing his best to hide his anger and just get the whole thing over with. 

7. Acceptance/Hope

Finally we are finished. I briefly glance through the images as my children change, dropping clothes as they go. I  search my mind for alternatives. The contingency plan is something I seem to forget about every year, but often need. Maybe we can use a funny picture and just go with 100% honesty--Hey world, this is us. We are a shit show and this picture proves it. I'm fine with that--I think, and if I'm not I can always use individual pictures of each kid like I did last year. Either way it is done and I'm fine--we are all fine. And some part of me takes comfort in the fact that it is not just the Christmas picture I chose that tells the story of us, but rather it is the collective group of images I have captured. If I click through them quickly, they move like one of those flip books. Years from now we will be able to live these moments again--whether we want to or not. 

Now off to order my pictures. Keep your eye on your mailbox. Remember I am hoping for some prime real estate on your wall or refrigerator. 

**If you enjoyed this inane holiday post please check out my post from this past Easter where I discuss my family road trip and how creepy the damn Easter bunny is. 


  1. I was exactly there, it seems a million years ago! And then I discovered, THE COLLAGE CARD!! Greatest invention EVER!!! They never even have to look at each other!

  2. I too use the collage feature on Snapfish. I haven't taken a good picture of all 3 in years!

  3. Holiday cards are an experience at every age. My kids are 11.5 going on 30 and 15 and it is still a giant pain to get them to hold still and take a picture. That is a slight exaggeration but not as much as I want it to be.

    Now it is generally more difficult to find a time where we are all together and there isn't homework, sports or some other activity.


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