Thank you for your wonderful holiday photos! In case you are wondering why you have not yet received a holiday photo from my family, it is because every year, we wait until after January 1 to send out our cards. We do this in order to avoid the whole Is-this-a-Christmas-or-Hanukah-card? situation. We can instead send a card that says “Happy New Year!” This strikes me as an excellent official reason for sending our cards after January 1. Now I will tell you the genuine factual reason we wait until then to send out cards: Because today is December 21, and we haven’t selected a photo yet.

That won’t take long, you say? But we do not make decisions quickly in our household. Have I mentioned the pictures that we haven’t hung on the wall yet? The pictures I had framed in August? That is, August of 2009?

Our annual tradition concerning holiday photos used to be different than it is now. In order to photograph our children, we used to seat them in an attractive room where they were posed nicely to convey an atmosphere of peace and tranquility.

The process would go like this:

Okay, smile. Keep smiling. No, open your eyes. No not you, him. No, that doesn’t mean you should close your eyes. Well, your eyes may be open, but I can’t see them because you’re looking down. Please keep looking at me so the camera can see your handsome face.

Okay, one more shot, and this time, no rabbit ears!

Okay, one more shot, and this time, no rabbit ears and no poking!

Okay, one more shot, and this time, no rabbit ears, no poking, and no shoving! Okay, that’s good, just hold it and—

Don’t cover your brother’s face. We want to see both of your handsome faces. That’s not funny, turn around, and pull your pants up!

You can see why we decided to alter, somewhat, our procedure for family photos. Now, we take photos of the kids when they’re doing something they enjoy, as opposed to when they’re being forced to sit still for long periods, which they enjoy about as much as getting flu shots, except the flu shots don’t take as long.

In August when we go on a family vacation, we take many, many photographs. We look at them on the camera’s digital display, and say, “This is perfect; it will make a good holiday photo.”

Then, in the smugness of our certainty that surely among the 649 photos stored in that camera from our vacation, there is ONE—remember, we only need one—in which both children are a) not eating, a rule we violated only once; b) smiling, or at least not making the twisty face; and finally, c) wearing clothes, or at least enough clothes that social services will not be called in response to our holiday card—as a result, we ignore the holiday photo situation until December, when we begin to receive your cards.

And then we shift into overdrive. At least this gives us a reason to finally upload the 649 photos onto the home computer, so that we can get a better look at them, at which point we find that not one of them meets all three of our criteria for the holiday photo.

Meanwhile, we continue to receive cards with beautiful photos of other people’s astonishingly well-behaved children, who apparently did sit still for heartwarming poses in handsome outfits; children with glowing, scrubbed faces and ribbons in their hair, children who are impossibly clean even while riding camels in Egypt, digging for fossils in Tanzania, or relaxing on a barge in Burgundy. And I begin to suspect that these children were either a) bribed or b) sedated, or c) are not the actual children of these people but little actors who are rented out for the occasion.

In any case, these beautiful photos work in one of two ways: They raise the stakes. Because we’re taking longer to send ours out, it better be good. On the other hand, because we’re late, we are tempted to throw caution to the wind, order a damn photo already, and stop agonizing over it.

Thus motivated, we finally choose a photo that has at least two of the three original criteria. Or one, at least one, in that, both children are in the photograph. And then we wait. By the time the cards are delivered to us, we are no longer paying attention to what the photo looks like. First, we will think we ordered too many. Then we will think we didn’t order enough. Before we can mail them out, someone has to address the envelopes. No one wants to do this. And then we find that we don’t have all the addresses. Fourteen people have moved, five are out of the country, and three have remarried and we don’t know their new names. It will take another week to address and stuff the envelopes. But rest assured, we will get these suckers out before Martin Luther King Day if it kills us.

However, the cards we send will not contain a letter.

There are a number of reasons why we don’t write a holiday letter. The best one is, you already know everything we’ve done this year. In fact, as a result of e-mail, Facebook and Twitter, we already know what most total strangers have done this year.

It is possible that my reluctance to send an annual letter is also related to my early years, in which my family did not send holiday cards or letters at this time of year at all. When I was growing up, photos were primarily mailed out when our school pictures came home. These mug shots were enclosed in envelopes and sent to relatives worldwide to be carried in wallets, I can only assume, as proof of the deleterious effects of the Diaspora on one’s appearance.

At the same time, the information that would have been included in a holiday letter was instead communicated by personalized letter or phone call, or over lunch at the Hot Shoppes. This is because it was very important for the information to be individualized. Family news was either fabulous, slightly bad but tinged with humor, or terribly unfortunate, depending on who was talking and who was listening. Such subtleties could not be accomplished through a mass mailing, but could only be achieved through the machinations of the prolific and mysterious communication ring known as the Jewish Mother Network.

Therefore, I have both historic and contemporary reasons for not composing a holiday letter that details our family activities of the past year. I will instead compose a letter of a type one would not normally find in a holiday card. My letter will describe what I did not do in the past year. It will be mercifully short! And I will get that out to you before Presidents’ Day. I promise.

For more from Paula Whyman, see and her online parody newspaper