It’s that time of year again – when we actually revert back to using snail mail to send our loved ones cards to wish them good tidings and peace on earth for the holiday season. These days, most holiday cards include a beautiful, glossy (or matte), happy, and full-of-smiles photo. I love getting these cards and photos in the mail. It helps me feel connected with many people that I don’t see on a normal basis and to see how they have changed over the past year (especially if they aren’t on social media).
What I really want to talk about, though, is what we’re not able to see in these photos.
Now I don’t want to assume that every family’s photo shoot experience looks just like ours, but in our case it never fails that some strife (to put it lightly) begins a couple of hours prior to leaving the house to meet the photographer. Strong opinions are expressed about outfits, wardrobes are changed several times, temper tantrums are thrown (by more than just the children), and we’re ALWAYS running late.
I actually have very similar memories from my own childhood. We didn’t do annual holiday pictures, but our church put together a photo directory every few years, which required getting our picture snapped by a photographer in a makeshift studio at the church (think Olan Mills and fake library bookshelf backgrounds). This NEVER went well for our family. I can still remember my brother and I getting into it with our mom over something ridiculous like his tie not being tied quite right or my hair bow being out of place. She was usually doing that “mom thing” where she was licking her thumb and wiping something off of our faces or smoothing our hair (spit really has so many uses). We would be at arms with each other until the moment the camera flash went off. I still laugh when I look back at some of those pictures, because I can see right through our forced grins.
Now that I have a family of my own, I realize that this whole process of preparing a family for pictures is hard work. One year, my daughter squeezed her applesauce pouch and squirted it right down the front of her outfit in the car on the way to meet the photographer at Washington Park. (Tip – no food pouches en route to a photo shoot.) Last year, said daughter didn’t want to be in any pictures that also included my husband. (This obviously made capturing a FAMILY photo difficult).
I really don’t tend to think of myself as one who overly cares about outward appearances or being perceived as having the perfect life, but something about this moment each year brings my crazy out. It isn’t pretty, and I’m not proud to admit it.
More than just the short-term distress that takes place in preparation for the photo shoot, the picture that is hand-picked from the dozens of shots won’t reveal the heartbreak, grief, and struggles that the family has endured. You aren’t able to see the many tears that were shed and you won’t know that this beautiful camera-ready family is actually falling apart from the inside out.
We actually managed to get some great family photos taken this past summer, and we’ll be sending out a photo Christmas card of ourselves looking quite happy, but the truth is that our family has had a really tough year filled with much sadness. Of course it hasn’t all been sad – there have been many great joys mixed in with the hardships, but our family photo may not be the most accurate representation of our overall current life status. Ultimately, I’m assuming that we aren’t the only family where this is the case.
I’m not suggesting that we start sending out cards with frowny faces or greetings such as “Our year sucked, how about yours?” (I secretly would love receiving a card like this, though.)
However, perhaps when we receive a card in the mail this holiday season, it can serve as a prompt for us to reach out to see how that family is really doing. Don’t assume that all is well. Take a moment this year to truly and intentionally connect with those that you care about. We all want a happy new year, so let’s help each other out with making that a reality.