'It's near impossible if you have young children – so people appreciate a card that emphasizes the challenges of parenting vs. hiding them.'
Editor's note: This article was originally published on December 24, 2021. It has since been updated.
One family from North Carolina has put their own hilarious spin on the tradition of sending out annual Christmas cards. Realizing how much of a challenge it is to successfully execute a beautiful, cozy and smiley photo when you have little children—let's be honest, it's pretty difficult even when only adults are involved—the Stanleys decided to capture the true essence of parenting in their Christmas cards. "The very first time we tried to take a 'traditional' Christmas card photo we had hilariously bad results," Jonathan Stanley told Bored Panda. "We were new parents with a one-year-old and everything went wrong – baby cried the whole time, it was windy, the lighting kept changing, you name it."
"If 2 of us looked okay, the third one blinked. We laughed so hard at how bad the photos were that we decided just to send them out as is and our family loved it," Stanley continued. "From there the tradition was born – instead of trying to send perfect cards, we would send something that represented the chaos of parenting. At first, I think my wife kind of rolled her eyes and said okay we'll try it. I had no idea if a staged scene would make sense or be funny, but we went for it and it just kind of worked."
"The kids love it, though when they see the final product I have to constantly remind them that it's fake and to not try it in real life. I worry sometimes I am putting ideas into their heads," he admitted. Explaining the creative process behind each year's Christmas card, Stanley explained that they try to make the scene aesthetically pleasing on the surface—"as if it's a Pottery Barn ad or something," he said. "I also take care to make sure its a realistic as possible – most of the scene is shot practically and I try to minimize the photoshop required to yield the best results. Today most people have a strong eye for recognizing when something is fake, so the goal is to make it just real enough that they question how we pulled it off."
"The hardest part is getting the kids to look in the right place and hold the right pose – especially when they were younger," Stanley added. "We use a lot of tricks like putting bells on a pole and then holding it where their eyeline needs to be, etc. Also ensuring they don't bump the tripod while we are shooting – easier said than done when you have two boys running around for an hour. We shoot each kid individually and then stitch it all together... but if the tripod gets bumped it ruins the effect and we have to start over."
"Our friends and family would be so disappointed if we went back to a normal card at this point," he said. Speaking of how they came up with the concept for this year's Christmas Card, the father-of-three said: "This year we thought it would be funny if my wife gave up chasing them... and instead was sitting with a glass of wine watching the chaos. That gag really struck a note with a lot of folks... funny how a small background detail is often what people comment on the most. Another one that gets lots of reactions is the fact that I wear the same sweater each year."
"I think deep down everyone hates trying to get a photograph for a Christmas card," Stanley concluded. "It's near impossible if you have young children – so people appreciate a card that emphasizes the challenges of parenting vs. hiding them. Plus a lot of people seem to appreciate that the cards are a fun thing we do together as a family. After all, the family that plays together stays together."
Here's what the Stanleys came up with in 2020:
And here's 2021's epic shot: