My Thoughts on the Perfect Holiday Card

Each year we try and each year it's painful. Like most Americans, we attempt to send out a holiday card so you can see how much the kids have grown or how many gray hairs they are giving us. Some years are better than others. And yet something has been bothering me this year. Why do we all try so hard to make it perfect?

I posted this photo (above) on Facebook and captioned it "Wreck the Halls" and everyone told me it was either cute or they loved it and I should send it. It's our real life, after all. I would have loved to, except my husband (the eternal blinker) wasn't thrilled with the photo. He doesn't need perfection, he just wanted his eyes to be open (can't argue with that). People assume that it's easier for us photographers to get a nice family photo. Nope. Easy isn't the word I'd use. Torture, maybe? And this wasn't even a professional photographer who took these, it was my brother in law (thanks Ken, I owe you a few drinks of course!) who had to put up with my unruly kids. And believe me, there were at least 30 photos of my family NOT looking at the camera or smiling, and one of us was always blinking. ;-) The thing is, WHY do we even bother? WHY must we send a photo or holiday newsletter sharing the lengthy stories of "who did what"?

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I think there are three main reasons why people send out holiday cards.

  1. Competition
  2. Tradition
  3. Guilt

Which category do you fall into? Or is it a combination of all three? Sending holiday cards with photos has become as competitive as children's sports! A certain photographer I know is asked every year to create the perfect backdrop or holiday setting for his adult clients and they pay an obscene amount of money to send out this Photoshopped idea of perfection. And then there's this family member of mine (who shall remain nameless) who sends out their card with full letter each year and tells of their news, health woes and lengthy paragraphs about each child's career, travel, hobbies, etc., because it's what they've always done. Lastly, there are those who despite all their best efforts just never got around to taking a photo or sending a card and now with the holiday upon them they are feeling the guilt. So why do we to this to ourselves? I honestly feel like we (Americans) have forgotten what it's all about! The real reason why we send these cards isn't to impress or "one up" the competition. It isn't to spew your family's entire past year into one letter because you forgot to email or correspond more regularly with your loved ones or (gasp!) use a phone. And it isn't because we feel like we should (or we have to) send one like it's a chore or mandatory parental responsibility. The real reason behind them (cards or letters) is the sentiment or emotion that we are trying to convey during the holiday season. It's a celebration of life, sharing of joy and love, and for some... a reminder of faith and hope.

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So here's what I have to say. Enough already. This thing called life, it's not a competition.

We are all doing our best to just get by, day by day, without feeling like we need to fake it to be worthy of hanging on someone's mantel or windowpane. Don't get me wrong. I understand that there is *magic* in that one rare moment (see above) where everyone is smiling (not screaming, frowning or dripping boogers) or looking in the same direction. I am thrilled if I can get this photo at least once a year for my own family, and the things is... I don't want it for the card. I want it for me and more importantly for them. And I want to tell you that some of my all-time FAVORITE cards aren't the kind photographed by professional photographers. Here are some examples below. My friend Marisa is so great at coming up with a family poem about her 3 sons each year, and I can't wait to see what she'll do the following year! My friend Karen just sent this creative card, with scrapbook style cut outs of photos and it featured her family lizard - awesome! My friend Jo's kids all had on their pajamas and were laughing and being their authentic selves. And lastly, my friend Linda's boys were just chilling outdoors wearing their bike helmets - totally them! See the examples below in the quick iPhone image...

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The point is, perfection is so overrated! Send something that reflects you (the creative, the goofy, the athletic, the messier or nerdier the better!). And if you still have the urge to write and send an entire letter about the past year, ask yourself, "why do they need to know, and if it is so important than why didn't I tell them sooner"? Find a way to abbreviate those letters and maybe keep the whole (scary) colonoscopy story to yourself. ;-) Now, maybe you are one of the people feeling guilty because you didn't send a card or anything out yet? Well, do yourself a favor and quit feeling guilty. Don't let yourself feel ashamed for not living up to the grand expectations of others... OR... for feeling like you didn't do enough. We all have bad years or busy months. Life is overwhelming at times. Let yourself off the hook! You do plenty! You are enough. [Tweet "All the effort you put into making the holidays extra-special doesn't go unnoticed. Not by me."]

You aren't screwing everything up. You are busy nurturing relationships, celebrating those loved ones, and riding the wave (and adventure) of life! So next year, when you are trying to remember why you even bother with holiday cards and you are stressing about what to do, keep these things in mind...

  • Authenticity is Beautiful - real life trumps all, no matter what your photo (check out Beyonce's) or family looks like!
  • Heartfelt Traditions Matter - share your sentiments for the season along with a personal note or best wishes!
  • Offer Gratitude - maybe it was a long or hard year, so try expressing your thanks for the encouragement or support!
  • Let Go of the Guilt - if sending in December is too much than try a Thanksgiving or New Years card, and online e-cards work well too (like this one from Lucasfilm mentioned on CNET)... or just skip it!
  • Share your Talents - you love to write poems or maybe you have a flair for humor, so why not try doing something unique and hand-crafted that your friends will appreciate - and maybe even via social media where it can go viral?!
  • Celebrate your Joys + Gifts - be sentimental, show the spirit of you or your family, and don't be afraid to be bold in your thoughts or wishes!

Regardless of how you send something (or don't), isn't it time we started to celebrate just how beautiful our imperfect lives can be? I have a wish for the New Year that we (as humans, parents, individuals) will want to compete less for perfection and encourage each other's unique gifts or talents more. I have a dream that we will all celebrate our traditions and let go of the expectations of what they have to be (or used to be), and instead make them what we want them to be. I hope that we can begin to let go of the idea that being busy means we are validated as successful individuals, parents and children. It doesn't matter how busy you are. If you are unhappy or filled with guilt, and don't have time for yourself or the things that truly matter, than what kind of success is that? I've been there, on that sinking ship where competition, expectations and validation have dictated too much in my life. I don't want to go back there. I want to be happy while living a life with purpose and intention.

So here's to embracing our imperfections, celebrating traditions, and letting go of guilt and validation so we can start living the life we've always dreamed! Happy and Merry Everything!

Sarah Lehberger

Easton, CT

Sarah Lehberger is a photographer based on the shoreline of Connecticut, just 90 mins from New York City, in the small town of Easton. She specializes in photography that celebrates working Moms and their families. She is also a Co-Founder of She Will Thrive, providing business coaching, retreats and workshops to women entrepreneurs, creatives and small business owners.

Sarah's career started in the news and entertainment industry. A storyteller at heart, she began photographing weddings in 2003 while also working full time at Getty Images, NY in their editorial department. Sarah enjoyed the fast-paced and glamorous events she would collaborate on, yet deep down she was craving more purpose driven work. In 2005 she decided to leave the corporate world to launch her full time wedding business, which received numerous awards and features throughout the industry.

In 2013 Sarah rebranded her business so she could continue her mission to celebrate women, with a new focus on mothers. She feels strongly about empowering women and creatives to succeed, and has been a speaker at conferences such as ShootDotEdit's Unlimited Happiness Tour, Inspire Photo Retreats, as well as a past coach and mentor for Team X Academy.