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Ah, the holiday card picture. I doubt there's a person under the age of 40 who hasn't been made to pose for one at some point in their lives. I've had to do so for 30 years now.

When we were kids, the pictures usually featured some sort of celebrity along with the four of us. We cornered Ted Kennedy in the halls of the Senate while visiting our nation's capital (the picture was taken before the children were aware that he had killed a woman via vehicular manslaughter), found an all-too-eager Indiana Jones impersonator in Disney World, convinced heavyweight boxing champion Buster Douglas to sit with us after a training session, posed with a guy who looked like Abe Lincoln, and so on.

When a celebrity wasn't available, a cheesy, and usually historical, setting was used. One year the holiday card photo was taken at a Mark Twain festival in Hannibal, Mo. My brothers were dressed as Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn, complete with cut-off jeans (which were, of course, fashionable for deviant youngsters in the pre-Civil War era) and corn-cob pipes, while both my sister and I were supposed to be Becky Thatcher. Equally embarrassing was the photo taken in Colonial Williamsburg, where we wore tri-corner hats and marched down a cobbled path with tin flutes and drums. Merry Christmas from the 1700s!

As we got older, the celebrities and exotic locations dwindled, but the pain of posing remained. We were told to stand next to each other and smile at graduations, weddings and funerals; no fewer than three deaths in the family have been turned into opportunities for holiday card pictures. One year, we were given colorful scarves and hats on loan from the Gap and told to hold a strand of Christmas lights, as if the camera caught us on the way to hanging 5 feet of twinkling cheer on the front of the house. It wasn't until the first round of cards went out that a friend pointed out the price tags hanging off the hats and scarves my mother had promptly returned after the photo was snapped. My mom spent the day removing the tags by cutting the bottoms off of the remaining cards.

My oldest brother reached the breaking point first and led a revolt. All my poor mother wanted was a nice family photo. What she got was a picture in which each of her rotten kids was giving her the bird. The bird was tastefully done, though—perhaps an arm around a sibling that partially hid what was going on, perhaps a lone finger sticking out of the pocket, perhaps a hint of something not very nice in the shadows. To my knowledge, no one even noticed our brand of holiday cheer until we finally pointed it out to my mom who, once again, spent the day cutting the bottom off the unsent cards (all the while daydreaming about cutting off four real fingers, I'm sure).

Now that he's almost 30, my brother wages a more passive protest: He arrives an hour late for the photo, sets his timer for 30 seconds, and is out of there when the allotted time is up, whether the camera has had time to focus or not. He has his own kid to pose now, as do I.

  • Ah, the holiday card picture.

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