It’s that time of year…time for the “dreaded Christmas letter.” At least that’s what some people say. These yearly, neatly-printed-out letters, telling friends and family the details of our lives, have a bad reputation. At least one “Ann Landers-type” column always has a sarcastic version of them. Quite often this viewpoint is well deserved. We’ve all received overly-long, bragging letters in which every family member is a star, whether it’s in the workplace, in the classroom, or on the athletic field…sometimes all three!
Knowing how some people viewed Christmas letters, I tried to avoid them. But a number of years ago, after I’d written nearly the same information on Christmas card after Christmas card (and gotten a case of tendonitis in the bargain) it occurred to me there should be a better way. I knew family and close friends did want to hear at least a few things about year, so why couldn’t I put my writing skills to work composing an interesting letter that didn’t boast or brag but gave information that they’d like to read?
This would take time, I knew, but it would be less time-consuming (and easier on the hands) than what I’d previously been doing. I approached this project as I would an article assignment, and it seemed to work well. I’ve been following this procedure ever since. Here’s how I go about it:
*Be brief. All writers know cover letters should be one page, ideally, and a page and a half is tops. The same is true of Christmas letters. At this busy season, people don’t want to read pages and pages about another family’s life.
*Hit the highlights. I like to check the past year’s calendar to jog my memory about what happened during that time. Then, I need to remember that it’s not necessary to tell every single thing everyone did. Just some fun, possibly unique happenings will let readers know you’re happy and well.
*If your family is an extended one, as mine is, with grown children, spouses, and grandchildren, do give each family a separate paragraph. And, it’s a good idea to mention each person by name. However, this can often be done in one sentence. Try to include things you know will make each person mentioned pleased when he or she reads it.
*Watch the boasting. Of course, we all want to tell of exceptional things our families have accomplished, but the appearance of bragging can be tempered by a joke or other comment. For instance, if I want to mention a particularly great writing sale I’ve made during the year, I’ll add something like, “this makes up for the numerous rejections I’ve also received!”
*Edit. When I’ve finished writing the letter, I like to go through and see if there’s anything I can eliminate and still keep the spirit of the letter…and the season. Quite often, I also find ways to combine sentences and events and keep things flowing.
*I also remember to add a few lines, usually at the end of the letter, that have a spiritual theme, such as mentioning the blessings we’ve received, a special church service we’ll be attending, and wishing readers a blessed and holy Christmas.
When I follow all of these steps, I do, indeed seem to achieve my goal: a letter people want to receive and enjoy reading. I’ve even gotten good “reviews” about it! And with the price of stamps today, it seems to me that sending something other than just a card is worth the effort. Try it and see if you don’t agree!