Not Your Hallmark Christmas

AwayInAMangerMy youngest son turns 32 today.  This flashed me back to my favorite Christmas letter of the same age, minus a month:

I HEAR HALLMARK MAKES PRETTY NICE CARDS

There is one time of the year that my family meets with as much breathless anticipation as they might welcome an impacted molar or hemorrhoids.

No, it’s not tax time or the annual Limburger Cheese and Lutefisk Breakfast. It’s Christmas card picture time.

I don’t understand. Don’t you get a warm and fuzzy feeling from the mere mention of Christmas cards?

Not my family. All they can think of is who’s going to get the tar, who’s going to get the feathers, and who’s going to tie me to the telephone pole near the ant hill. You’d think I was Roseanne Barr threatening to sing the national anthem at the World Series.

This unwarranted hostility began with my husband and his preposterous idea: “I hear Hallmark makes pretty nice cards and they’re already made.”

I don’t know what he’s got against creativity. He only had to wear a Santa costume in July once. And it’s not like I collected a big insurance settlement when he fell off the roof.

The rest of the family turned on me in 1983–just when I was about to capture the real meaning of Christmas. Picture this: a nativity scene in the old barn engulfed by the morning rays . . .

My skeptic, Ebenezer, thought this was hysterical, especially since I was considering our two children as the holy couple. I have to admit that I could see his point when I approached the kids at the breakfast table. Five-year-old Mary had two-and-a-half-year-old Joseph in a full nelson because he hid the prize from the Co-Co Puffs.

I wish I would have known some wrestling moves when I tried to wrangle him into his sister’s bathrobe. Our son figured this Joseph guy must have been a pretty big sissy and wanted no part of imitating him–until his sister screeched, “Get out of my clothes!” Then he decided he rather liked dressing funny. Mary had such a conniption, she knocked her grape juice on the floor.

I tried not to cry when I couldn’t get the huge spatter of purple off of my new wallpaper. “It’s okay, Mommy,” Mary consoled me, “People might think it’s part of the design.”

In the meantime Joseph tried to flush an entire toilet paper roll down the commode. He ran to his room before the smoke even cleared from my ears.

When Mary was ready and the flood waters subsided I summoned him out of his sanctuary. He emerged wearing nothing but cowboy boots, a ten-gallon hat, and a red bandana.

By the time I got Joseph dressed the second time, I felt like I had ridden a donkey to Bethlehem and given birth. This was a little discouraging, as I still had to get to the barn with the manger props and camera equipment, a doll to be baby Jesus, the potty chair (just in case), and two cookies for bribery. This was no easy task as I was seven months pregnant and had very little arm room to spare. Mary had to devote every ounce of energy she could muster just to drag a bawling Joseph behind.

We met old Scrooge in the yard. I tried to look like I was having fun.

“Wook, Dad,” our son sobbed, while picking his nose, “I’m Jophes.”

“Jophes. You’re so stupid, Booger King.” Mary disdainfully slapped his finger loose.

“Weave me awone!” wailed an indignant Joseph who hauled off to deck Mary, but missed, falling to the ground, splitting open his lip.

“I hear Hallmark makes pretty nice cards,” (I knew it was coming) “and they’re already made.”

I stomped on my spouse’s instep as I trudged past, pausing only to suggest where he and Mr. Hallmark could go.

I managed to ignore his annoying cackle until we reached the barn where flies, cobwebs, and bird droppings overwhelmed us. Joseph stuck his finger in a fresh deposit and asked, “What’th thith white thtuff?”

“Frosting,” said Mary. “Taste it.”

Joseph and I put the frosting on Mary’s cookie.

I was able to snap only four shots before the sunlight moved from my makeshift manger.

Away in a Manger

The resulting photograph of Jessica and Joshua and doll (Mary and Joseph and Baby Jesus), captioned, “Blessed are they who see Christmas through the eyes of a child.”

I addressed our Christmas letter from the hospital after having a baby boy (Seth) on December 12th, 1983. He was due January 12th, 1984. (The doctor maintains that photography will not induce labor.)

Our unexpected Christmas present added a special significance to our handmade greetings, in which I had inscribed, “Blessed are they who see Christmas through the eyes of a child.” (Amazing how we can turn from sarcastic to serene in an infant heartbeat.)

Card recipients raved about how angelic our little darlings photographed and asked what I had planned for the next year as an encore. I always made sure my husband was out of earshot when I replied: “I hear Hallmark makes pretty nice cards–and they’re already made.”

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