WEIRTON - The concept of the annual family Christmas card is nothing new, but the Capito family of Weirton has taken the tradition to a whole new level.
While many families are content to line up in their Sunday best and smile at the camera to pose for the annual holiday mailing, Dr. John Capito, who has practiced medicine in Weirton for almost 30 years, his wife Darlene and two sons John II and Joe revel in the opportunity to be a little more creative in how they spread their Christmas cheer.
The result has been something that has taken on a life of its own.
Photo by Ian Hicks
Top, Dr. John Capito, right, his wife Darlene and son John Capito II talk about their family’s Christmas cards.
Above, this year’s card, “How the Godfather Saved Christmas,” will be the first in a series of three parodying the classic 1972 Mafia flick.
It all began some 27 years ago when their eldest son, John II, was an infant. They decided to use a family photo taken in their Halloween costumes - Dr. Capito and his wife and King Richard and Robin Hood, John II as Friar Tuck - in a Christmas card to send to a select few people. Things continued that way for a couple years, but the cards grew more popular than they ever could have imagined.
The Capitos' annual mailing list now numbers about 500. Each of Dr. Capito's patients receives a card, as well - some even make it a point to schedule their annual check-up in December so they don't miss out, Darlene said.
Over the years, the cards have taken on a variety of themes, from the Little Rascals to Harry Potter and this year's edition - "How the Godfather Saved Christmas." The late actor James Gandolfini even got a kick out of the family's Sopranos-themed card one year when Dr. Capito had the opportunity to show it to him during an appearance at Mountaineer Casino, Racetrack & Resort.
Not every card has been such a huge hit, however. For example, one in which family members posed as Jesus and his disciples at the Last Supper garnered mixed reaction and was a bit too irreverent for some tastes - though Dr. Capito insists he cleared it with his priest beforehand. And while they laugh about it today, a card from about 10 years ago depicting the guys as the three Wise Men, with Darlene as an angel, gave some recipients the wrong idea.
"They thought I died and the card was a memorial to me," Darlene said.
Last year, the Capitos were ready to hang it up. With the children grown, they figured it would become harder and harder each year to get everyone together for photo shoots and brainstorming sessions.
The election-themed 2012 card hinted that the tradition was coming to an end, with Dr. Capito - in a variation on Richard Nixon's 1962 concession speech after losing California's gubernatorial election - announcing that "you won't have the Capitos to kick around anymore."
But the response from longtime recipients ranged from disappointment to disbelief - and sure enough, the Capitos were back at it this year with plans to keep going for the forseeable future.
"It's like they say in the Mafia - just when you thought you were out, they pull you back in," Dr. Capito said.
Added Darlene, "It wouldn't be Christmas without our cards. ... It's just a part of us now."
Much thought goes into the cards each year - evidenced by the storyboards that hang on the wall in Dr. Capito's office. He and his sons provide much of the creative energy, while Darlene often serves as an editor of sorts.
Weirton resident Bill Zablackas has been involved with the Capitos' cards for about 15 years now, through photography and more recently, computer graphics.
For Dr. Capito, thoughts of next year's card begin as soon as the latest batch is mailed out.
"It's always on my mind until I come up with the right idea," he said.
Like many families, the Capitos have a number of Christmas traditions. While some, however - for example, getting together and reading "'Twas the Night Before Christmas" - have lost their luster as the children have aged, such has not been the case with the Christmas cards.
"It was a tradition they didn't outgrow," Darlene said. "This one we've gotten to enjoy a little longer."
A number of the family's cards from over the years are on display at the Summit Art Gallery in Weirton, under the category of thematic pop art photography. John Capito II hopes over the next couple years to publish a coffee table book celebrating unique Christmas cards from various families.
To learn more, visit www.youroriginalchristmascards.com. Examples of cards can also be mailed to P.O. Box 2077, Weirton, WV 26062 to be submitted for inclusion in the book.