It’s the holiday season, and for most people, that means sending out cards to friends and relatives. If you have the time, it’s customary to jot a little note in each card. With lots of kids, we’re lucky if we remember to get the cards in the mail at all, much less in time for holiday delivery. We all want to communicate with our friends and family and keep up with their activities, writing an annual holiday letter is a great way to do that. A holiday letter will more or less cover the holiday you are having, providing details on the destinations that have been visited and anything else worthy of note. When done properly, holiday letters can be a wonderful thing. Sometimes the only contact we have with certain family and friends is at weddings, funerals, and through the yearly holiday card. Therefore, if done right, a Christmas letter is a great communication tool. The idea of letter writing may terrify most people–there doesn’t seem to be a lot of middle ground.
How do you write a holiday letter that people want to read, and actually look forward too? As with any writing project, a holiday letter is a bit of an art. It’s finding that perfect balance between upbeat and sincere, realism and sugar-coating. It’s giving information, but not flooding with too many details. It’s about giving people what they want to know about, not necessarily what we want to recount. It’s taking it seriously, while still having fun.
Here are a few ideas to spice up your Christmas correspondence
To begin with, it should be noted that a holiday letter is an informal letter. Informal letters are letters that are written more for a specific person, and so the intended recipient should be known. Beginning the letter with a dear sir, or madam, would not be appropriate for a holiday letter. So, begin the letter with dear… and then the name of the intended recipient or recipients.
A holiday letter is not a postcard, and so some additional holiday photos can be good to include in the envelope. Then, you can provide some additional comments on the photos included within the holiday letter.
Keep it short. A page and a half max, but one page is better. The perfect family letter should be one page. Even the best writers know the virtue of editing. Cut it and try to make it more concise. Use a smaller font to get more to fit on a single sheet if you have to. If despite everything, you have to go to a second page, it’s not the end of the world. Three pages, however, is a definite no. If you have more to share, invite the reader to drop you a line, call you, send you an email. If they really want to know all the gritty details, you can share it with them then.
Even if your family has contact with you regularly, a holiday letter is a nice way to recap the major events of the year. Consider what they may want to hear about. Remember how you feel when you sit down with an old friend for coffee, wanting to catch-up and remember old times.
That first story is your big news of the year. After that, toss in a paragraph of the other big highlights, keeping them to a sentence or two each. Keep it light. Make a joke, preferably at your own expense. Write using the same voice you would as if you were speaking. Make it personal. If you’re typing a mass letter and e-mailing it, be sure to put a unique sentence or two at the top or bottom of the message directed to the receiver. This will make him/her feel special and important in your life.
The worst thing to do in a letter is to only brag about all the successes you may have had and the things you have done. It’s okay to share your success, but do it in a way that is upbeat but humble. Be matter-of-fact, don’t brag. People want to share your joys, but they resent it when it feels like it is being shoved in their face. Remember how you feel when you hear good news, when all you have is bad? Be sensitive to the feelings of your readers. Also, remember that good fortune can come and go, it’s not a given. Be sure to acknowledge that, show thanks. We all hit bad spots in life, and while our friends and family want to share in our joys, they also want to know our sorrows. Acknowledging the negatives gives a “real” quality to the letter.
Even if the year has been bad, there are always things to be thankful for. The holidays are for focusing on loved ones and that which is really important to us. Be sure to close your letter on an upbeat. End the letter on a positive note.
It may seem tacky to list your personal information in a holiday letter, but it’s just a way of reaching out. In an age of technology, there are more ways to connect than ever before. Give your recipients a way to reach you throughout the year. . Share your email address. Also, if you have moved during the year, make sure to mention it. Your recipient may not notice the new return address label.