Christmas cards are for the dogs anyway.

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“Let’s take just one picture before we leave,” my mom suggests to my brother and me as we’re walking out the door, already running late to our family’s Thanksgiving gathering. We exchange eye rolls but know there’s no escaping, so we accept our fate. Because my brother and I are dressed up for the holiday, our mom capitalizes on this opportunity every year to take a family Christmas card photo. Heads down, we march to the backyard, round up our two dogs, assume our positions on the old wooden bench we always sit on, and brace ourselves for the disaster that will soon follow.

Mom experimented with a few different backdrops when we were younger. One year, we sat on the bottom two steps of the staircase, but the overhead lighting cast a weird shine on our faces in that card. Another year, we tried sitting on the front porch, but our dogs kept losing focus when neighbors walking off their turkey passed by. Festive props have been thrown in the mix too. We were went through a three-year period in which the dogs wore reindeer ears and my brother and I wore matching Santa hats—but that ended when my grandmother called to say her walking group unanimously decided against the hats for next year’s card.  For another photo, we sat in front of the fireplace with caroler figurines strategically placed along the mantel in the background, setting what we thought at the time was a seasonal scene, but only when we got the cards back from the printer did we realize just how creepy the looming plastic faces of the eager carolers looked. So after years of cringing over the embarrassing final Christmas card products, we decided to go simple: a rickety wooden bench on the patio in the backyard. No Santa hats, no frightening carolers—just four smiling faces.

You’d think that getting two twentysomethings dressed up and enthused enough about a Christmas card photo shoot would be the most challenging hurdle, but my brother and I have our job down pat. It’s the two furry, four-legged children that cause the most chaos. Now that my parents are empty nesters, the two dogs are on well their way to becoming the favorite children. Kate, a three-year-old yellow Lab, is too excited about the family being together to sit still once she’s in her spot on the bench. Ben, a 15-year-old chocolate Lab, can’t jump up by himself to sit next to me on the bench anymore. He puts his front paws up on my legs, sticks his gray muzzle in my face, and waits for assistance with hoisting up his remaining two legs. Once he’s up there, though, I swear I he smiles bigger than anyone else in the photo.

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Ben is one of the main reasons we still make the effort to take the Christmas card.
Every year, we think it may be his last. But we’ve been saying this for about six years now, and he’s still hanging on, his open-toothed grin still beaming on the annual holiday card. Who are we to deny an old dog one of his favorite occasions?

With her free hand, Mom directs her subjects, instructing my brother to turn his head a bit more to the left or for me to open my eyes wider. Dad is brought in for reinforcements, holding treats above my mom’s head to get the dogs’ fleeting attentions. After what feels like hours of flashes, every one is too frustrated (and hungry) to carry on, so we give up on our attempts, settle for a subpar photo, and race to the car, hoping our family hasn’t decided to cut the turkey without us.

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