It’s time for the holiday editions of those awkward family photos. You know, the portrait with the family bedecked in matching, hand crafted reindeer sweaters and awesome 80s hair. Or the Polaroid of the two sisters dressed in their Christmas best dukeing it out over the doll’s corvette. Every year more awkward photos surface, each batch more cringe-inducing and guffaw-producing than the last. And we’re all invited to dig up our own awkward family photos because, of course, everyone has them. Except, perhaps, not everyone does. 

For many, there is the question of which family, and when? Was that the year when having a happy, blended Christmas with the new step-family ended in devastation? Dad stormed off to the tavern, Cindy ran away with her boyfriend, and we were left with a woman we barely knew wielding her eggnog mug like a machine gun. Or maybe that’s the year just before the custody battle, and the last time we were all in the same room together, without legal representatives–it was just the photographer, and us in our cheerful sweaters. Or maybe those pictures are from that year when Mom’s friend was with us, which seemed weird. I mean, not even Dad knew that she had a girlfriend in college. 

For some of us, we simply have no photos. No evidence of an awkward family remains. Perhaps that is a blessing, of sorts. That awful kitten sweatshirt that you wore to rags and insisted on wearing in the picture with Santa Claus, neither remains to taunt / both have passed through the transfer station. And no one can dredge up memories of that tantrum you threw at age five simply because they weren’t there. There may have been a look of untamed joy when the pirate Lego set was revealed, but your grin will never get framed on a magnet. Besides, Polaroids are so clunky compared to today’s digital formats. 

With few simple memories in circulation, perhaps that’s why the awkward family photos are so popular. A single snapshot may stand for 1,000 words, but all that really matters is the goofy hair, the oversized glasses, the unpracticed smiles.