Giving the finger to the tradition of the obligatory holiday card reciprocity
By Shelly Cone
Every year during the holidays I start to cringe when I check the mailbox. I know at some point I will open the mailbox and that first Christmas card of the season will be sitting there all gold and sparkly and smarmy. Smarmy because it’s the very first Christmas card and it brings tidings of boasting and bragging, jealousy and good jeer. Because inside that smug little envelope is a photo of a perfectly coiffed family, in a perfectly staged photograph, with perfect smiles on their faces. And their card is the first in my mailbox because they are first at everything.
I, on the other hand, have three boys and spend most of my off hours stopping up bloody noses, breaking up brawls, and trying in vain to stop the game of catch going on in my living room. I can also never find a semi-decent photo of my family. There is always someone making a face or turning away to look at something that was much more important in that two seconds than looking at the photographer.
So I wait and then I get that first Christmas card from the Jolie-Pitts. I hadn’t even planned on sending the Jolie-Pitts a Christmas card so it sends me into a panic. Suddenly I now need to get them a Christmas card and it has to be as perfect as theirs. After much whining and lamenting and poring over a year’s worth of photos, I realize I don’t have a perfect family. I have a family of boys and they don’t give a damn about perfection.
Then, while we were at the mall Ron had a brilliant idea. Let’s turn the Christmas card routine on its head. We weren’t perfect so we needed to own that fact. We were going to take pictures with Santa, as is, and make faces at the camera. That would be our Christmas card.
For us as is, meant the baby was wearing holey jeans with food stains on the front of his shirt from lunch. The boys had messy hair, I was wearing my old jeans (actually Ron’s jeans) with paint on the knee and I hadn’t put on make up and I didn’t even comb my hair that day. I just put it somewhat back into a ponytail/messy nest look. We were better suited for a run to Home Depot than a picture with Santa.
We informed the camera girl of our plan and they quickly handed us reindeer antlers to wear. “Someone needs to give Santa bunny ears. I’ve been waiting for someone to give Santa bunny ears but no one will,” she said.
“You realize he’s the last person you want to give bunny ears to? He brings the presents,” Ron said.
Then we stuck the antlers on our heads and waited in line behind the most incredible family you have ever seen in your life. A family so beautiful and perfect I was going to vomit rainbows on their little girl’s goldilocks. “Why can’t we be that family?” I whined.
Then they all took incredibly timeless and beautiful shots on Santa’s lap, everyone looking insanely perfect. Then it was our turn. While most of us played along, one of us—Jake—decided he is too close to teenagehood and the moodiness and mortification of doing stuff with your parents that comes with it that he refused to put on the antlers. He also refused to make a face. Not only did he refuse to make a funny face, he refused to make a smiley face. But he didn’t fully think it through because by sitting there all sullen and moody, he was actually making a face.
We pleaded with him to play along to no avail. Then Santa stepped in and played hardball. “If you don’t cooperate I’m not coming by your house,” he said. Then he looked sternly at Chase and Sebastian who looked confused for a second then quickly grasped the meaning of that statement.
Santa had just turned the Cone brothers on each other. At that moment, I was so happy I had decided against making bunny ears behind Santa.
“Jake just do it or we won’t get anything for Christmas!” Chase hissed through his teeth. Sebastian could just manage a “C’mon Jake” in a pleading voice with just a tinge of baby brother whine.
So Jake put the antlers on for the second half of our pictures but his face remained frozen in that sulky look that doesn’t thaw until after senior year of high school. It was OK. We got our dorky photos and went about our day. That night when we got settled we decided to check out our photos. My mouth dropped as I called out to Ron, “We are that family!”
Everyone came running to see our pictures of the candy and sugarplums family from in front of us in line. That left one big question: What if that family was sitting down to look at their pictures and they opened up pictures of some whacky-ass family wearing antlers and making faces wearing the same clothes they were doing yardwork in earlier that day?
For a second I had considered slapping that photo on our Christmas card and sending it out, but instead I went back to the Santa booth and got our real photos.
Our photos were just as we expected—silly and slightly outrageous and definitely nowhere near perfect. But Santa visited our house just the same. I hear ours was the only house where he felt comfortable enough to loosen his belt and kick off his boots for a bit as he enjoyed the glass of beer we left him. We may not be perfect but at least we know how to entertain.
This post was originally published in the The Sun newspaper.