From snowmen to gingerbread cookie costumes, Sue Johnson has been passionate about her family’s Christmas cards.
For more than 20 years, Johnson, a mother of three, has been dressing her family up in over-the-top outfits for their holiday cards. She sends the cards to more than 200 friends.
“I think they’re fun, and I get so many good comments about how much fun they are and how entertaining they are and how people wait for them,” Johnson said. “Some people tell me their kids come home from college and the first thing they say isn’t, ‘Hi Mom, Hi Dad.’ They say, ‘Where is the Johnson card?’”
Their cards started simple, with Santa hats and red sweaters. But over the years, Johnson has gotten more creative with costumes that look like presents, Christmas lights and poinsettias. Now, Johnson tries to outdo herself each year.
“I try to outdo last year’s and the year before and the year before and it’s gotten sort of out of hand,” Johnson said. “I spend most of the year thinking about it. Not every minute of course but I spend a lot of time thinking about it and planning it in my head and then I spend probably around two months actually working on it, and getting it ready, and trying to outdo the year before.”
Last year, Johnson and her husband Rob, who live in Eagan, Minn., dressed as Mr. and Mrs. Claus with each of their kids, Valerie, Erica and Michael, decked out as reindeer, posing with a 100-year-old sleigh. The Johnsons’ new son-in-law was forced to be Rudolph, equipped with bells, antlers and a bright red nose, as “initiation,” Sue said.
One of her favorite photos is from 1997 when the family dressed as angels, including her then-seven-year-old son, Michael. Another favorite was their 2004 photo, for which they posed as toy soldiers.
“I wanted to put the costumes on and march to the photo shoot, but family won’t let me do that,” Sue Johnson said. “We had to retake that one because in the first picture my daughters had their heads tilted slightly so it just didn’t look right. We had to be exact, so we had to go back and I had to tell the photographer, ‘OK, everybody’s hand has to be the same, everybody’s head has to be the same because we’re soldiers.”
Over the years — especially the teenage years — Sue Johnson says her kids moaned and groaned about the costumes that she picked, and handmade, for them. But now she says her children and husband see it as bonding time.
“I thought that over the years the family has balked a little, but deep in my heart I thought, you know, they don’t mind but think they have to put up a stink,” Johnson said. “Then, last year, my daughters expressed how they really felt, and it quite literally made me cry because they do it for me.”
On Dec. 15, Johnson and her family will pose for their last over-the-top Christmas card. It will be the first year with their two new grandchildren. Sue Johnson says she wants to devote to them instead of to her cards.
But don’t count on Sue Johnson to give away any details about this year’s card.
“I have to be very secretive,” she said. “I make sure that my cards go out and my people get the card and get to see it first before world.”