Every year since I was born, my mother sits my sisters and I in front of a pre-decorated Christmas tree or on the front porch for the annual Christmas holiday card. Even since I've moved 3,000 miles away I'm included in this event, by the poaching of whatever Facebook photo my mother deems cute enough. I dealt with this through high school, through college - always not wanting to offend her and chalking it up to one of those "things you do for the parents that raised you." At 27, it's not so cute anymore—in fact, I fear it just continues to bring attention to my sad lonely significant-otherless life across the country and I find myself kind of embarrassed. I want to ask her to exclude me from this tradition this coming year, but I fear offending or upsetting her. Is that okay?
Thatz not okay.
First, please allow me to formally commend you on your maturity. You realized early on that uncomfortable family photos were just something you sit through to make your parents happy, and your explanation for wanting to back out now is eminently reasonable. It sounds like your parents did a fine job of raising you (and have a themed series of 26-odd images to prove it). Unfortunately, reason and moms and Christmas do not go hand-in-hand-in-hand. At Christmastime, there are only FEELINGS.
There are three kinds of Christmas card families in this world: the ones who send plain cards, the ones who send picture cards of kids, and the ones who continue to send picture cards of kids long after those kids are grown so it's just like "Here—here are some adults that we know." The third kind is the most wackadoo and special of all. And, sister, that's you.
You probably could have gotten away with dropping out of the family photos if you had done it the year you graduated high school, or even college—though it still would have broken your mother's heart. Now, you're a lifer.
You are correct that, 27 years on, the photos are not so cute anymore. But why are we standing on ceremony? They stopped being cute a long time ago. At this point, what they are is: hilarious. By now, your family Christmas card has become part of other families' traditions. You can bet that your dad's college girlfriend (Felicia!) rips open that envelope covered in your mom's special cursive handwriting with maniacal glee as she clambers to see "if Liz is still including pictures of their 'kids.' Oh my God, she is! When is she going to stop?!" I'll tell you when she's going to stop, Felicia: Never. And guess what else? You're a bitch.
If you abruptly stop appearing in the photos now, people are just going to think you died. ("Oh, no! Steph must not have made it! And she looked like she was having so much fun at Oktoberfest last year.") Even worse, your mom might choose to include a note like a persnickety yearbook editor ("Not pictured: Steph") or attach a photo of a sopping wet blanket.
This is not to say you have no leverage here. If your mom insists on including a random Facebook photo of you, you should at least be able to select the picture for inclusion. If you're worried about looking sad and lonely, I would go for something irreverent (Steph eating a giant sandwich in a parking lot!) over the glamour shots moms tend to favor (Steph, dateless but demonstrating the excellent posture that has become her trademark, at the Rutgers Barristers' Ball).
It's also worth remembering that anyone who's receiving this card has long since made up their mind about you and probably does not have a super nuanced idea of who you are and what your life is like. (Maybe you're "the athletic one" because you played basketball in 10th grade?) You don't have to worry about impressing them because, in this context, the only thing that is going to impress them is a truly elegant Christmas card. (The most elegant card my family ever received, which featured three blonde cherubs posing in front of an antique wooden sled—along with, oh yeah, THEIR REAL LIFE PET PONY—haunts me to this day.) Your mom is not going to achieve such refinement slapping together random pictures she printed off the Internet, then taped together and Xeroxed at Kinko's like a '90s punk zine. So just accept that your family is a jolly, dorky adult Christmas family and enjoy the fact you're contributing something of value to the historic record.
Submit your "Thatz Not Okay" questions here. Art by Jim Cooke. Previously in 12 Days of Thatz Not Okay: 12 Bucks for Jim Fucking Beam; 11th Hour Bonus; 10 Dollars, Split Three Ways; and 9 Christians Fretting.