The perfect Christmas card picture

For the past few years, I have had the task of taking pictures of my kids and my two nephews for my mom’s annual Christmas card. While technically this is my parent’s Christmas card, it has become known as Grandma’s Christmas Card, because of its origins.

This began several years ago when I took a picture of all four of the grandkids running and jumping at a Steeplechase race, and my mom, upon seeing it, said, “Oooh! I want that for my Christmas card!”

And so a tradition began. Each year, I try and do something a little different and something that is fun and representative of their four spirited personalities. My kids are 14 and 11, and my nephews are 7, so needless to say each year represents new and exciting challenges, and gives me new opportunities to rework the phrase, “Do you want to ruin Grandma’s Christmas!?!?!”

The representative location also prevents different challenges, which call for innovative solutions.

For example, the year I shot the pictures on a boat in a marsh, I informed all of the kids that, since I was driving the boat, I was Captain of the Ship and was thus solely in charge, and failure to follow the captain’s orders would result in expulsion to land, and would ruin Grandma’s Christmas.

And the year I shot the pictures in the woods, I informed them that as the oldest and tallest person there, I was the Captain of the Woods, and climbing trees not part of the photo shoot would result in expulsion to the cabin, and would ruin Grandma’s Christmas.

Each year, I manage to get the shots with a relatively pain free experience, although it does drive home the reason we do family pictures and not family videos.

This year, while visiting my folks’ house, I decided I would try and get the annual picture. I gathered up the four kids and headed to the front yard, and told everyone else this was a closed shoot. Last thing a Captain needs is conflicting orders.

The first one I tried was just a simple shot of the four of them sitting on the tailgate of a pickup truck. Simple Americana, folks.

My first obstacle was when my nephews decided they didn’t want to sit on the tailgate, but wanted to stand. My son argued that he was on the wrong side of his sister, who said the little boys should sit on her lap. OVERRULED!

Next up, I tried to get them to line up like football players. My son, Parker, would be the center. Sam and Nick would be linemen. Allie would be quarterback.

“But I want to be quarterback!”

“I don’t want to play football?”

“Can I bring a spear?”

Answers: You’re a lineman, too bad, and a spear? Seriously?

Overruled again, and I reminded them that I am a captain AND head coach.

Once we finished with that set, I opted for a fun game in which I threw the ball high in the air and told them all to try and catch it. I haven’t looked at the pictures that closely, but I feel very confident that none of those pictures will be used. For one thing, coded deep into our genetics is a competitive spirit that comes out during any game in which one can be declared a winner. Second, also coded in that genetics, is a very strong distaste for not being declared said winner. Those pictures resemble more of a post-apocalyptic scrum for the last vial of antidote, followed by pictures that look as if three of the four have been informed of a beloved pet’s passing.

I took a handful more shots, and I am hopeful that I got something that will capture the spirit of family my mom hopes to convey when the annual card goes out. And, most importantly, I’m just glad that, once again, we didn’t ruin Grandma’s Christmas.

Mike Gibbons was born and raised in Aiken, S.C., and now lives in Charleston. A graduate of the University of Alabama, you can e-mail him at or follow him on Twitter @StandardMike.


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