A Few Good Moms: Can you handle the truth about your family Christmas card?

Everyone loves getting holiday cards, but do we all love creating them?
Everyone loves getting holiday cards, but do we all love creating them? Getty Images/iStockphoto

The mom picks up her youngest daughter and places her back onto the sofa, ignoring her shrieks and tears. The dog begins to bark as her husband pulls out his phone to answer a text. Her son kicks his shoe across the room and tugs at his Christmas sweater. “Look happy!” the mom snarls, as the grandmother clicks away at the chaotic family scene.

You want to know the truth about your Christmas card? I think you can handle it.

Let’s get real here. Nothing illustrates the truth of the traditional holiday experience like the annual Christmas card. This is a pronounced irony, because the card itself is often complete fiction.

But the reality is that these cards often require extreme planning and ninja-focused execution . . . just like the holiday season. These cards flaunt the best version of ourselves . . . just like the one we pitch to Santa. And we do these cards because it is better to give than to receive, in keeping with the overall spirit of Christmas.

Ok, scratch that. It absolutely is not better to give a Christmas card than to receive one. In fact, the opposite is true. I think it’s fair to say that the reason most folks send out cards is because they love getting them.

The thing is, what you see on the card often belies the reality of the family experience it portrays.

Like one of my most favorite Christmas card pictures of my boys. It was taken on a beach vacation with my in-laws when the boys were in pre-school. The day before we left for the coast my children began throwing up. This continued for two days (and nights, during which I did not sleep except for brief cat naps between episodes). We were completely fatigued.

And then they were better. That was the good news. The bad news: the dreaded virus began to make its way to/through everyone else on the trip. You never knew who was next, or when they would fall. Everything would seem fine, but then I would offer a sandwich to my husband, or some shrimp cocktail to my father-in-law, and they would blanch and decline and begin to turn green. Within hours they would be huddled over the toilet, and we would drape crime scene tape over their bedroom doors and douse ourselves with antibacterial gel.

My mother-in-law became so sick I thought we were going to have to take her to the hospital. We listened to her throughout the night, contrite in the knowledge that we had brought this awful plague to her door and to her digestive system. It was miserable.

So imagine my surprise when she announced that she was determined to keep the photo shoot that she had scheduled weeks earlier for the family with a beach photographer. Remember the khakis and the white shirts we were all asked to pack? Time to dress out! I felt like I was experiencing the origin of the phrase “come hell or high water.”

So we got on our outfits, and suffered the expected resistance from the boys for making them wear a particular something, and wearily made our way to the beach. The boys bounced around as was typical at that age. The air was humid and buggy, and I watched my mother-in-law intently, certain she might pass out at any moment. The sun set quickly as we scrambled to get in our poses and various family configurations before we were in absolute darkness. I had no idea what this endeavor would yield. Given all of the pain and suffering that came before it seemed only fitting that our family “movie poster” would look like it was promoting The Zombie Holocaust meets Weekend at Bernie’s.

Instead, the pictures were surprisingly sweet. Moments that I didn’t notice as they were happening were captured with amazing clarity. In my favorite photograph, my rough and tumble, often bickering, constantly wrestling, recently vomiting boys actually looked almost angelic.

You better believe I slapped that baby on my holiday card faster than you can say “Christmas miracle.”

And you know what? That is a completely legit part of the Christmas card tradition. Holiday cards may not typically show families in their usual imperfection, but the truth is, ‘tis the season to present our lives not only as they actually are, but as we longingly hope them to be.

Want to get a better handle on your family Christmas card? Consider these tips from, enjoy a laugh at the expense of these Awkward Family Photos, and contemplate the poignant power of the pic with this sweet song by Ed Sheeran.