11/25/2013 10:18 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Holiday Cards, Sans Santa

My 11-year-old son probably won't believe this. (He accused me of lying when I told him I didn't have a cell phone in college, nevermind fifth grade). But when I was growing up, holiday cards were all about the holidays.

I remember the excitement I'd feel opening up an envelope and finding an image of a Christmas tree covered in glittery snow, an angel decked out with a golden halo, or Rudolph lighting the way. A note from my uncle would say how he couldn't wait to see us on Christmas. My spirits would instantly lift and I'd start imagining what the elves were doing that moment in Santa's workshop. I'd anticipate the unwrapping of presents and eating strufolli, a honey-covered Italian sweet, on Christmas morning. Maybe this would be the year that I'd get a pony. These cards were magic to me.

We'd save them and then the next December at the start of the season, my mother would pull them out. It signaled that the magic was about to begin again. I'd flip through the cards and cut out pictures making piles of reindeers, Santas, trees and stars, and then transform them into gift tags.

It occurred to me a few years ago that I couldn't continue this tradition with my son and daughter. I flipped through the stack of holiday cards we received and noticed that the only thing anyone could cut out for a gift tag would be a human head. Creepy.

Most of the holiday cards I receive these days don't have any sort of holiday image on them anymore. They don't seem to have anything at all to do with the holidays, really. Typically, the cards show a picture of a family. Dressed up. On a beach. Sometimes they are a collage of 10 pictures. Of family members. Dressed up. On a beach. They don't remind me of the holidays. They remind me of how I blew my summer vacation budget on holiday gifts. And it's not that I have anything against family photos in holiday cards. I truly love seeing photos of everyone's kids and how they've grown. But how about at least incorporating a Santa hat? Is it too much to ask that a holiday card should include something, anything at all that suggests holiday?

I also like showing off my kids in my cards, but I have this weird quirk where every year I feel the need to include some sort of Christmas-y component in my holiday card, whether it be jingly jingle bells, oversized candy canes, reindeer antlers or Santa beards. One year I attempted to wrap my 2-year-old son in a Christmas package. (Dear Social Services, his head stuck out the top so at least he could breathe). The problem is that as my kids get older, now 11 and 8, they are becoming less willing to be tortured by my ideas of the Christmas spirit for a photo op. They don't like to smile on demand. They don't like to pose. They think my ideas are weird. They are soooo un-Christmas-y.

So recently when we were in Jamaica for my brother's wedding, I said to my husband that maybe we should just take a quick picture of the kids for the holiday card. The lighting was great! They had on stain-free clothes! They were smiling out of happiness! No "look happy" prompts needed! And I was pretty sure that corralling them for a picture with a frozen Bob Marley mixed drink in my hand would be infinitely easier than on a cold, sober winter day in Maryland. My husband responded with a look of wonder. "Really?" he said. "You're flip-flopping on your number one rule? I thought holiday cards should be all holiday, all the time. All snowy and filled with candy canes?" Oh, right.

Does anyone have a stinkin' Santa hat I can borrow?


As you can see in this older photo, my kids are getting fed up with my idea of the holiday card.