More Virgin Mary, Less Virgin Islands

The Rev. James Martin objects to Christmas cards featuring family photos. i i

The Rev. James Martin objects to Christmas cards featuring family photos. Courtesy of the Rev. James Martin hide caption

itoggle caption Courtesy of the Rev. James Martin
The Rev. James Martin objects to Christmas cards featuring family photos.

The Rev. James Martin objects to Christmas cards featuring family photos.

Courtesy of the Rev. James Martin

It's the middle of the day, and I'm opening my Christmas cards. And what do I see when I tear open the envelope? Not Baby Jesus in his manger. Not the Virgin Mary. Not even the Wise Men. No, chances are the card will be a photo of a family on some beach in the Caribbean. Or a picture of somebody's house. Or someone's dog wearing reindeer horns.

These are the new favorite Christmas cards, for even the most pious Christians: the family cards.

Family cards display — on the front — a photo of a happy family, typically wearing red-and-green scarves or red-and-green sweaters. Sometimes the family dog is included, wearing a scarf covered with slobber. Just as often, family cards show the clan on their summer vacation, posing jauntily in bathing suits in the Caribbean. These cards don't say "Merry Christmas" as much as "Look where you didn't go!"

Look, I love family photos during the holidays. Plus, I actually read those annual holiday letters, all of which start with "What a busy year it's been!" Seeing photos of my friends and their families and even enjoying a few sunny beach scenes when it's cold and dark outside is a highlight of December.

But I enjoy the photos more when they're inside the card, not the card itself. Because more and more, even devout Christians have been replacing Jesus, Mary and Joseph with themselves. Doesn't it strike you as weird to set aside the Holy Family in favor of your family? Does a photo of Cabo San Lucas trump the story told by the original San Lucas? Is Christmas really about you?

Still unconvinced? Try a thought experiment. For your next birthday, how would you feel about getting a birthday card with my photo on it? "Happy Birthday! It's a photo of me!" My modest campaign against family cards has less chance of success than another Ralph Nader presidential bid. People will accuse me of being anti-family. But I'm not: I'm more pro-Holy Family. Plus, I'm battling Snapfish, Shutterfly, Kodak and a lot of online card stores that have been promoting this idea with more resources than a poor Jesuit can muster.

So I'll leave you with a simple plea. Place those great photos inside the card. Or how about this: When choosing your Christmas cards this year, think more Jesus and less you. Or, more Virgin Mary, and less Virgin Islands.

The Rev. James Martin is a Jesuit priest and author of My Life with the Saints.

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