My Four Rules for Choosing Christmas Photo Themes

Featured Holidays

Even before our first daughter was born, I sort of designated myself “Official Christmas Photo and Letter Director of the House of Tate.”

As such, I think about photo and letter themes every year, run through the final idea with the family (only briefly, as I’m a bit of a control freak when it comes to themes), then designate the jobs for everyone. My husband is often head photographer, my oldest daughter is in charge of graphic design, my youngest is there to keep our egos in check, and the pets are a mix of comic relief and cardiovascular workout trying to make them stay still.

Some of these ideas I have shared here on GeekMom in the past, both as a look at our family holiday traditions and as a DIY for mini books. It has, I confess, become something I tend to keep in the back of my mind most of the year. What will this year’s theme be? What have I done before? Does anyone really care?

This year, we’ve all had a bit more time to think about weird little incidentals that creep up our spines and settle in the base of our brains, and I have thought a lot about what exactly I should do this year for our family card. I went with a post-apocalyptic Mad Max theme, which everyone loved. Here are the four main questions I mull over every single year, even in this very, very weird one.

Should I do a card this year?

This is probably on everyone’s mind right now. Did we actually do anything worth anything? Plans fell through, big events were canceled, and everything seemed to be one big virtual, Zoom-infested nothing. People get so down about everything from petty politics to more serious personal problems. For me, all the downtimes were one of the factors in my decision that made me decide ” yes, I should do a card.” If I’m down, I want to feel up. If things seem nothing but sad around me, I want something to feel happy about. At least for me, I want a little glimmer of escape and laughter when the world seems gloomy. I hope I can be the one who supplies that for others.

Last year, we turned our letters and photos into a little ‘Life Magazine’ parody. All generations enjoyed this one. All images from the Tate Family

How much do others care to read?

How many times do people get those front-and-back, single-typed letters, documenting every sight seen on a recent trip or sharing too much information about a recent health issue? I used to think a full letter letting everyone know what we did over the year was something family and friends really wanted to know. It really isn’t, even when I tried to make it fun for them. One year, I wrote a letter as if it came from Area 51 and “redacted” half the information. Yet, over the years, I discovered it is enough to just let people know what grade the kids are in and brag a little about their big accomplishments. No one cares what us “grown-ups” are doing unless we’ve moved, changed jobs, or got elected to a public office. (Actually, no one really cares about that, either.) Keep it simple. Keep it brief. Keep it interesting.

Who exactly is getting a card?

Sometimes, when I’m trying to figure out what I do for a holiday photo idea, I wonder exactly how many people will “get the joke” or understand a geeky reference. What is appropriate for everyone? Is it “too secular” for some of my older, very traditional friends or relatives? Will my inclusion of a Bible verse exclude my nonreligious pals? I’ve learned one thing over trying to make everyone happy. As far as what is “appropriate,” I don’t care. If you know my family and me and are on my card list, you better be able to accept my weird sense of humor. If not, you don’t really want a card from me, and that’s one less stamp I have to use.

To cliché or not to cliché?

Finally, when I’m thinking of an idea, I want to try and do something not everyone else will think of. There are some clever people out there today putting together some pretty fun family photos, but I’m always trying to do something a little different. This has become a sort of a preoccupation with me over the holiday season, as I want to be fun and clever without being “Awkward Family Photos” fodder.

Actually, I’m admittedly unreasonably critical when it comes to shunning what everyone else is doing, and just because I don’t like the idea doesn’t mean others might not find it comforting, classy, or charming. I even have one embarrassing example of being a bit jerky about this.

I have been overly judgmental about those “matchy-matchy” family photos where everyone is wearing white or black shirts and khakis or jeans. Usually, the people in these photos are perfectly wonderful folks, but I can’t help but find it irritating. One summer, we went to visit my husband’s dad and step-mom at the same time his brother’s family was also visiting. His father thought since he had both his sons’ families with him, he would do a big family photo and “could we all please bring a white shirt” for it. My husband found this hilarious because he braced for my reaction. I didn’t want to be “that person” that gripes to everyone, so I only griped like a bratty kid to my husband. Did I really have to be part of one of those photos… that other people will see?

Yes, yes I did. The morning of the photo, everyone was sitting around in their nice “white shirts,” ready for the photo, when I set my full coffee cup down on the table, just on the edge of my plate. It tipped over directly off the edge of the table all over my husband’s only white shirt. He had to go change into a black one, throwing off the entire vibe of the photo. Of course, it was my fault, and I still hear about it to this day.

Oh well, that experience taught me I shouldn’t take any of this holiday photo business too seriously, and I certainly don’t own the creative rights to other people’s Christmas card content.

Whatever you plan for your holiday photos, or even if you don’t do them at all, that is something completely up to you. My only suggestion is to do what makes you happy. Be comic. Be conventional. Be creative. Most of all, however, just be yourself, even if “yourself” likes a bit of cosplay.

As far as whether or not that photo-disrupting coffee spill was accidental, well that is a question best left unanswered.

We’ve turned cheesy fun road trips into card inspiration (like our Roswell letter) and mimicked the Shelby Family’s 1920s style in a  ‘Peaky Blinders’ photo, even if won’t let our kids watch the show.
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