Family's annual greeting reflects logistical triumph BALTIMORE CITY


December 23, 1992|By JACQUES KELLY

James and Rosemary Lazzati post 650 cards each December, every one a photograph of their ever-expanding family.

The family began the tradition of mailing a photo portrait-greeting card in 1955. They've not missed a year ever since.

Friends have collected entire sets of the 38 cards.

The Lazzatis had children -- James, Virginia, Mary, Rosemarie "Dodie", Joan, Margaret, Joseph, John, Philip and Paul -- and then adopted another daughter, Dolores. The 1992 card is crowded with spouses and grandchildren. Every inch of space is taken up with smiling family.

James Lazzati was a Loyola College graduate and young father when the family card tradition began. In 1951 he married the former Rosemary LeCompte at SS. Philip and James Church in Charles Village. Their first child arrived in 1952.

The initial card, sent in 1955, shows the parents and four children in front of the Christmas stocking-lined fireplace at their Loch Raven Boulevard home.

Everyone is attired in flannel pajamas. One of the little girls holds a pretzel. This is one of the few photos wherein the patriarch Lazzati is not sporting one of the bow ties he favored in that era.

An artist sketched the 1956 edition to resemble a Christmas stable. The heads of the family members are superimposed on the scene. The baby, Joan, is in the manger.

By 1957 the card again assumed a devoutly religious tone. The family (now up to five children) is posed around figures of the infant Jesus, Virgin Mary and St. Joseph.

As the clan grew, the background of the photos changed. In 1961, the eight little Lazzatis and their parents stood on the steps of the main altar at the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen.

In 1963, the Lazzati family assembled one November afternoon at the cathedral for yet another photo session. They waited hours for a photographer who never arrived.

"When the Knights of Columbus came in to pray the rosary for President Kennedy, we realized what had happened. The president had been assassinated and the photographer had taken off for Washington," James Lazzati recalls.

The first cards were photographed by longtime Baltimore photographers Francis DiGennaro, Gene Regester and Jerry Goldberg.

Finally, after son John Lazzati took a photography course in school, he inherited the task of rounding up all the clan in the early fall.

He uses a timer so he has time to make it into the family portrait.

Today, the greeting cards are color printed in Tappan, N.Y., in a press run of 1,500.

The elder Lazzatis use the largest number but their children now mail the cards to the people on their own card lists.

This can get complicated. The children now live from Los Angeles to Ocean City. Most, however, reside in Baltimore.

"It's the only day of the year when the entire family is together. It's a special day. It takes the place of a family reunion. And it's fun," says James P. Lazzati Jr., the oldest son.

He recalls some of the earlier photo sessions: "Everyone behaved except for the baby, who usually had no idea what was going on."

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