We used to take pictures for the Christmas cards every year, and Mother and Dad worked really hard to come up with cool things for us to be doing in them until we hit our teens- about the time we moved. I now figure it had more to do with our cooperation level than their imaginations. After that it was just a trick of trying to get all of us together and not fighting.
We used to joke that only one person was allowed to cry each year. I would guess some of the difficulty came from vanity. Oh, what a trick it was trying to get a decent picture of everyone! I remember once I was in the back row by the fire place and to be seen behind the others I propped one of my clogs (thick wooden shoes) on top of the other to gain about 5 inches. At some point I lost my balance, fell off, and spilled Dad’s drink (which he’d put on the mantle) down his pant leg. That was HIS “year to cry”.
But the earlier years were fun. Somewhere I think someone may have a complete collection of those picture cards. I don’t remember sitting for the first one I remember seeing, with my brother and I leaning against the footstool. I do remember crowding around the big chair with Bob reading the Christmas story to us all. I remember distinctly various poses on the couch the year Trish was born- she was in a big box with wrapping paper fluffed around, and we were all supposed to be “unwrapping” her as a gift. Another year we were in the kitchen wrapping- which was odd because we had to bring down the paper months early to make the picture. The hardest was the year (before Trish was born) when they had us all in their big bed pretending to sleep. Dad was on a stool or ladder at the foot of the bed to get a good angle of the four of us while we kicked each other under the blankets and giggled.
When I tried to replicate that with my kids many years later, I waited for Elizabeth to fall asleep for her nap, because Dan was capable of acting asleep (at 3 or 4) I also hung a mobile of mini-cookies over them to create the “visions of sugar plums dancing in their heads”. It took us less time than my parents to give up on the “fun” pictures, but they made the cards a lot more fun than just trying to crowd everyone into the viewfinder.
Of course later when we had husbands, wives and children, that got to be a real trick!
Another memory for me was Mother writing the cards which she did the first weekend of December every year. She’d put a card table up in the living room, put Christmas carols on the Victrola, and that would be the beginning of the season. She wrote them that weekend because Dad always had a sales trip (probably a convention) that weekend every year. Mother sent out about 200 cards (by the time I paid attention) and wrote a personal note on the back of everyone. As we got older we got to help with the project. When we were little we got to lick and place the stamps and Christmas seals. (I always thought it was so cool when people used all four designs on their cards, but it now occurs to me that that probably meant that they didn’t send out as many cards as we did. I assume that the stamps were sent out with requests for donations the way charities do today.) When we got old enough to be legible, we got to help with the addressing. Mom had cards that kept track of addresses and who she’d sent cards to- and who’d sent cards to her. I remember going through that file after she died and seeing how many of them had husbands or wives crossed out with notes that they’d died (she also kept track of kids names), it was one of the most depressing things I’d ever considered. There was a progression from being proud to be allowed to help with the addressing to thinking it was a chore. I still admire how she wrote a personal note on each. After all, the whole idea is to let people know that even if you don’t see them any more, you still love them. Mother still kept in touch with family from Chattanooga and friends from college.
We gave up on the family pictures a few years after Dan moved out. A few times we tried making a card with art from each of us. I’d LIKE to think that I haven’t given up on photo cards because of vanity. Laziness seems much less shallow. My justification is that now that we are all adults we don’t change that much year to year. As part of my campaign to only do the most important parts of the holidays, some years I send cards, some years I don’t. I lost my addresses in a computer crash several years ago, and have never been able to reconstruct it, as so few people use mail any more, and all “addresses” are in people’s phones. It’s still great to get a physical card.