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  • Writer's pictureAllan Shedlin

Have Yourself A Memorable Little Christmas

Updated: Jan 13, 2021

by Scott Beller, Daddying Editor and Soon-To-Be Retired Santa Claus

A Wondrous Christmas, 2013

I love the process of making our family's photo cards each holiday season. But when I was a kid, we didn't do family Christmas cards. There were several, mostly-technical reasons for this:

  • Cameras weren't a ubiquitous part of our lives, and photo development was a glacial exercise. Photos taken in December wouldn't be processed and returned for several months! Photos to use for any end-of-year "highlight reel" – I mean really good photos – were both scarce and impossible to produce on the tight deadlines I operate under these days. And video back then? Forget it.

  • Even if there had been an easily-accessible Internet with several user-friendly sites on which to design our own holiday cards, we wouldn't have been able to afford it; and

  • Mainly, we just didn't do "family photos." The only year I remember going to Olan Mills studio to get one made, my dad refused to come, so we took our dog, Gracie, instead.

Consequently, I remember the holidays of my childhood not from photographs taken but from the music we played. Whether it was Karen Carpenter's warm, melancholy serenading from the car radio, or Bing Crosby's crooning on my grandmother's giant stereo console on Christmas Eve, or Johnny Mathis' falsetto crackling off his Merry Christmas album on my record player to help me drift off to visions of sugarplums (but not before I'd sneaked out of bed a half-dozen times to return the needle to the LP's outside edge), the sounds of Christmases past always bring back my most vibrant, cherished memories. And with those memories, emotions bubble to the surface like the old-school lights added to our pre-lit tree.

Of the relatively few photos taken of me and my sister during our childhood, even fewer survived my parents' divorce and multiple moves since then. Recently, I unearthed a handful I'd never seen before. I found them among a pile of things buried in molding boxes in my mom's garden shed. Some are with me and the only grandfather I ever knew. Some are of my sister and me during the holidays. Like recollections of those early holiday celebrations, the snapshots are faded. The people captured in their frames, almost unrecognizable.

brother and sister opening gifts from Santa Christmas morning
My sister and I on Christmas Day, 1972

These frozen glimpses of me and my family's past are treasures. A time capsule from my childhood.

I wish I could recover many more artifacts to remove the blind spots in my memory. Doing so might also help fill the chasm in my heart that opened as much of my childhood disappeared the past few years along with family members who could illuminate my personal history.

This is a big reason I've made it a priority to be with my daughters during all their life moments, big and small, since the day they were born. I've been fortunate to have been there and able to record many of those moments at home, at school, on vacations, and more. I know they'll cherish the videos and photos long after I'm around to retell all the funny stories they've loved to hear about when they were babies.

My girls, Christmas 2012

Yes, I'm a doting dad, but I also feel it's my responsibility to be a steward helping them carry their complete stories forward. Of course, technology has made things infinitely easier. Now, thanks to smartphones, we carry memory vaults along with the Internet around in our pockets!

Me, mom, sis, and Pawpaw, summer 1971

When creating our annual holiday card, I sift through thousands of photos. While time-consuming, it's time well spent. I enjoy reviewing all the highlights (and sometimes even the lowlights) of another year gone by. And every year, I purposely drift into file folders from earlier Christmases to embrace the times I still played Santa for my little girls (although my 13-year-old and I have talked it out, the 11-year-old still wants me to think she still believes the myth...and I'm good with that).

This year, in particular, when diving into old photographs, I was overwhelmed with competing emotions. Maybe because it's the last holiday season we'll celebrate in our current house, the only home my girls have ever known. Or maybe because this was another year when my family experienced a great loss – my mom's mom, who was 97 – and we had one less card to mail out.

So many photos. I wish there were more. More of me and my mother. More of me with my sister, my grandmother, my only grandfather. More of me at school with my friends. More of me playing baseball.

Of course, there's nothing I can do about lost photos. But I can make sure my girls have access to their own stories and highlight reels (and maybe a few to keep them humble!). Twenty, 30, 40 years from now, when they have children of their own, they'll be able to look back fondly on their childhood with help from plenty of heartwarming photos and video. They'll be able to remember things a little more clearly. Most importantly, they will know this:

There's no place their dad wanted to be more than with them,

watching them grow up, and cheering them on.

I hope they'll thank me.

Happy holidays to you and your family, keep taking photos no matter how much your kids complain, and daddy on into the New Year!

My girls and I, Christmas Day 2015

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Scott Beller is the proud, imperfect dad of two mighty girls, Morgan and Lauren, and also Editor of the Daddying blog, DCG's Director of Communications, and former blonde-haired cowpoke (apparently). He's a seasoned writer and PR agency veteran with more than 25 years of experience helping organizations of all sizes reach audiences and tell their stories. Prior to launching his own creative communications consultancy in 2003, he led PR teams with some of the world’s most respected agencies, including Fleishman-Hillard and The Weber Group. As a consultant, he’s helped launch two other parenting advocacy nonprofits with DCG founder Allan Shedlin. His first book, Beggars or Angels, was a ghostwritten memoir for the nonprofit Devotion to Children's founder Rosemary Tran Lauer. He was formerly known as "Imperfect Dad" and Head Writer for the Raising Nerd blog, which supported parents in inspiring the next generation of scientists, engineers, and creative problem solvers. He earned his BA in Communications from VA Tech.


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