‘Tis the Season for…Holiday Cards!


The back-to-school rush of early September fades into a gentle din of routine, until the cool, damp winds of early November bring with them the first notes of the holiday season. It starts slowly—a red bow here, a snowflake there—and then suddenly, as if performed by elves in the dark of night, three to six aisles of every store have become festive. I find myself fighting the urge to toss aside my pumpkin spice and embrace the peppermint mocha…

And, unless you have been living on the dark side of the moon, you are probably aware of the impending onslaught of holiday cards. In recent years, the holiday card has become more and more personalized, often with a photograph of the family. Perhaps you embrace the holiday card tradition. Maybe you think it a ridiculous waste of resources. Perhaps you feel it is a fad created by the U.S. Postal Service to help compensate for the fact that everyone now pays their bills online.

At any rate, the holiday card has become the artifact of the season, a tangible thing that is left behind after the festivities fade away. It is an embodiment of holiday potential: smiling families, carefully hung decorations, enticing packages tied with perfect bows, and wardrobes carefully chosen and matched so as to create the perfect holiday gestalt. Is this potential ever fulfilled? Who knows, and does it matter? The card tells us to “Be Merry” or “Celebrate” or some other warm holiday greeting, so why question it? Unless you think holiday cards a humbug…

Such importance is placed upon capturing this holiday artifact that professionals are often called in to help achieve the desired effect. A professional photographer can help in many ways, including, but not limited to, having knowledge about good lighting and color choices, an eye for composition, and access to photography tools that will make your picture look as awesome as, well, a professional photo! But there is also the practical reason that if you hire a photographer then you can be in the picture too!

I'm pretty sure we ended up buying the ornament my daughter is chewing on...
I’m pretty sure we ended up buying the ornament my daughter is chewing on…

Holiday photos can be an opportunity to have fun together as a whole family. With our busy lives and schedules it can be hard to find time or reason to be at the same place at the same time. The obligatory holiday card photo demands togetherness! Enjoy it, and try not to worry about what the resulting picture will look like. If you are enjoying yourselves, the picture will certainly convey that. But, if you are all fussing at each other to smile and lookno, not there, over THERE!—then some of that might leak into the photo or at least your recollection of the time together.

A holiday card photo can be a picture of you all having a nice time together, or a nice picture of you all together, and if you do it right, maybe even a nice picture of you all having a nice time together.

An annual holiday photo is also a good way to mark the passage of time, to watch the family and its members grow and change. It need not even be “holiday” themed, and you can do something more versatile if you’d like (bright red and green may not work with everyone’s living room decor). But, this yearly impetus of “getting the holiday card photo” will allow your family to have an annual record for the history books and family albums.

May I suggest you make the most of your “required task.” Go have fun somewhere! Head to the zoo, the park, the playground! Run an errand and have your photographer come with you! Bake cookies in your kitchen and have the picture taken with you and your family covered in icing and sprinkles! If you have to spend a little time together, make it a moment worth commemorating.

And, if you are more drawn to the traditional, there is absolutely nothing wrong with a festive backdrop and a Santa hat. All I ask is that you have a little bit of fun while you do it.

Last year I decided to keep our family holiday photos “real.” And what more “real” place is there during the holidays than Target? So, off we went to capture some only partially artificial holiday memories.

IMG_9654 IMG_9439 IMG_9693

Holiday card pictures can be magical. They can give you an opportunity to dress up and play and be merry together. But, I offer you the gentle reminder that your everyday life is beautiful too. The sticky fingers, adorable defiance, and refusal to sit still, are all perfectly wonderful parts of your family. And sometimes they photograph better, too—so please bring a bit of it with you for your holiday photos.

Enjoy your holidays and your holiday cards, and also the creation of that holiday card moment, whatever it may be.


Jess was born in Florida but also lived in the Midwest, on the East Coast, and, finally, in Los Angeles, before moving to San Antonio. She was in the last semester of a graduate program in English Literature when she found out she was pregnant with her first daughter. (Which means, gentle reader, she finished her studies with neither coffee nor wine! Be amazed!) Jess and her husband, a San Antonio native, have since welcomed their second daughter. In her previous lives, Jessica has been a college professor, an actor, and a restaurant manager. She is currently enjoying turning her obsession with taking pictures of her own children into a modest photography venture. You can check out some of her work at Mewborne Photography.