Picture Perfect Season

In my latest “In Good Faith” column for the Hingham Journal, I write about Christmas cards and the (sometimes) over-the-top letters that accompany them.


By the Rev. Tim Schenck

Picture Perfect Season

Could there possibly be anything less conducive to getting in the holiday spirit than taking a Christmas card photo? We took ours recently on a beautiful Saturday afternoon at Nantasket Beach in Hull. After much cajoling, pleading, bickering, and ill will, we finally ended up with something usable. And every year that’s precisely our goal: something usable. The Cleavers we’re not.

It used to be pretty simple. Having a single infant was a no-brainer: young couple holding a baby. When we added the second child and the “gift” of movement, things started to get more complicated. With two boys and a dog it became blood sport. Of course I get no sympathy from parents with more than two children. After sharing this experience, I received the following note from a parishioner: “Okay Father Tim, now that you’ve had the practice, how about coming over to take a picture of a five-year-old and three-year-old triplets?” Yes, that keeps it in perspective and no I didn’t oblige. Though I do look forward to seeing their Christmas card.

I love getting Christmas cards in the mail. They’re rarer these days as many now send out electronic holiday cards and Facebook keeps us in touch with people we used to hear from just once a year. But I’m always curious about the back story. Not just with the taking of the picture but with people’s lives. We do our best to present perfect families but what’s really going on? There’s something quite superficial about the whole charade, something that undermines the notion of authentic friendship.

Because with most people’s ubiquitous accompanying letter, only the good news goes in. So you hear about the son that just got into Princeton and the daughter that won a ballet competition and the fabulous family vacation to Maui. But you don’t get anything about marital strife or job loss or their child’s bout with depression. Just once, I’d like to receive a Christmas card that would admit to the brokenness and need for healing right along with the proclamations of joy and celebration. That, after all, is the power and point of the whole season. As John writes in his gospel about Jesus, “The light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it.”

Mind you we haven’t sent out a letter in years. Not because we didn’t want to brag about Ben’s ability to read “Anna Karenina” in Russian when he was two or Zack’s becoming a kindergarten grand master chess player, but because we’re lazy. Or if not lazy, too busy and too tired to get it together in time. And anyway, isn’t a picture worth a thousand words?

So Christmas cards become like those entries in the back of alumni magazines. The bad news is always filtered out which means you hear about the guy who just graduated summa cum laude from Georgetown Law or the gal who just got married or the author who just had a book published. But you never see something like “Ned Carroll just got divorced and had his truck repossessed. He’d love to hear from you!”

I think it’s okay to let the chaos and brokenness shine through every once in awhile. Even around the holidays. Maybe one of these years we’ll even send out one of our ill-fated Christmas card attempts rather than the usable finished product. It would certainly be more authentic. And for those of you still waiting to take your Christmas card pictures, I wish you the best. Even if an intense family feud ensues remember that it’s all to the glory of Christ’s birth. Right?


2 Comments on “Picture Perfect Season”

  1. Nancy West says:

    We once received a Christmas newsletter from friends with three young kids and it said “The best news this year is that Tina is NOT pregnant.” I certainly appreciated that unexpected flash of honesty!

  2. Kathleen Larsen says:

    I’d LOVE to do a photo with the kids screaming, food on their faces, the house a DISASTER, and Peter & I laying on the floor in defeat. 🙂 🙂 🙂 But he’d never allow it. I can dream, can’t I?
    Great post!

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