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Ransacking online photo albums for this year’s card

Remember the days when folks picked up a couple of boxes of Christmas cards and wrote something personal in each before sending them out? While the process was tedious and required a good chunk of time, you could wait until mid-December to think about tackling the task.

By the time my boys were born, the Christmas card newsletter had gained in popularity. Rather than simply wish family and friends a merry holiday, everyone we knew had begun stuffing the envelopes with reading material. In a less than concise manner, the newsletters would delve into a household’s year in review.

The letter added a layer of complexity to the card giving tradition. The writer in the family—typically the mom—was charged with summing up everyone’s achievements in a couple of witty pages. The goal was to make the family appear happy and successful, much like today’s Facebook interactions.

Our annual beach trip created the most excitement for our young family back then, so we always included a line or two about the great, fresh seafood we enjoyed and who beat whom at mini golf. But even with the 10-point buck my then-husband shot with his bare hands, our holiday newsletter barely took up a full page.

By the time I’d completed the newsletter, made 50 copies, found the typos, fixed the mistakes, made 50 more copies, folded and stuffed them into our cards, added school pictures, addressed them and licked and stuck the stamps, I’d pulled an all-nighter.

Back then, there was no Red Bull or 5-Hour Energy to get me through the next day. I had to rely on lots of coffee and caffeinated soft drinks. And I was always a couple of stamps short. Which meant purchasing another whole book of Christmas stamps. This left me with plenty of manger-scene stamps for bill paying in January.

When my boys hit middle school, photo cards became all the rage. The first year our mailbox was flooded with the precious faces of our family and friend’s kids, I was a step behind. I was still cranking out newsletters and clipping apart school photos.

Everyone else was living by the age-old adage, “A picture is worth a thousand words.”

Realizing I’d let the recipients of our Christmas card list down and noting how quick and easy the photo card route appeared, I vowed to jump on that bandwagon. So, the next year, I gathered our family together in November and had everyone pose for the card.

When your children are in middle school, it is easier to corral them and snap a few photos. As they get older, getting group photo becomes more challenging. When they were in high school, it was all I could do to get them in the same zip code in November.

Thanks to sports, band, school clubs and dating, one or more of our boys was always unavailable. When December first rolled around and I still hadn’t ordered the cards, I panicked. That’s when I started using group photos from family gatherings that occurred earlier in the year.

As long as the photo was taken in the same calendar year as the Christmas for which the card was being created, I figured it was fair game. The cards we received from others were trending toward vacation photos, anyway. Gone were the cheesy images involving fake Santa’s and dogs with antlers strapped to their heads, so I was at least being trendy.

But this year, I had nothing. With a child away at college, one working full time and one entrenched in high school, the last time we were all in the same room at the same time was last Christmas. Had I known that would be the case, I’d have snapped a picture and created this year’s card a year in advance. As wrong as it would have been to use year-old images, at least I’d have a card.

By the first week of December, I still had nothing. Seeing the display of boxes of 30 cards for $4 tucked away in a dark corner of the seasonal section at the superstore, I was tempted to wave the white flag and go retro this year. But then, my smartphone made a noise. It was a Facebook notification.

That’s when it hit me. There are tons of pictures of my darling children on Facebook. I could select a four-picture collage card and piece together tidings of good cheer. It only took 36 hours to secure permission from my children to ransack their online photo albums.

Within four days of creating the card, 100 copies sat in a box on my doorstep waiting for address labels. The images are up-to-date and the wishes are sincere. And I’m quite proud of the collaborative effort and giving spirit of my children, without whom this year’s Bare family Christmas card would not exist.

Meanwhile, who was that girl in my child’s Facebook photo album and what was she doing?!?

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Micki Bare is a columnist for the Arkansas News Bureau and the Courier-Tribune in Asheboro, N.C., and author of “Thurston T. Turtle Moves to Hubbleville.” She lives in Asheboro with her husband, three children and mother. Her e-mail address is mickibare@inspiredscribe.com