The Holiday Letter: Massaging Your Masterpiece

It seems like the holidays roll in earlier every year. One popular practice that seems to have picked up speed with each passing year is the memorable holiday letter. This is the time-honored update by which we stay informed about friends and family whether they are near or far.

We usually enjoy these yearly pronouncements — unless of course they’re three pages long, written in a miniscule 10 pt. font and filled with every nonessential detail about someone and their second cousin; we just don’t have the time to appreciate complicated write-ups and life descriptions! If you have adopted this seasonal custom, here are a few easy tips to make your dispatch readable … and enjoyable!

You want your holiday letter to be entertaining and impressionable. Yours should be the envelope your friends and family anticipate receiving and can’t wait to tear into year after year — not the one immediately put to the bottom of the “to read when I have time pile.”

The first step is to make it visually pleasing with some sort of a striking or illustrative element: pictures, graphics, rubber stamped patterns, pretty or colorful paper — anything to grab the recipient’s attention. The element of first impression is just as significant on paper as it is in person.

The letter should be short and to the point; brevity is always appreciated, especially during this hectic and hurried season. You can easily accomplish this by listing all the events you want to cover on a separate sheet of paper and then go through and choose the most interesting or noteworthy few.

Don’t worry that people will think you have a boring life if you only list three important details from a 12-month span; your relatives will know you have selected the major points to share and will appreciate the fact you didn’t detail each time you had your hair colored. Avoid the nonessential details, and just list the highlights of the past year.

If you have kids list each separately, spotlighting their individual accomplishments or developments. If you’re not particularly fond of writing, have each person (assuming they are old enough to write) create their own paragraph about their individual experience. If you have young children, you may want to have them get in on the fun and decorate a sheet of paper with their unique ingenuity. This adds a wonderfully personal touch in eveyone’s unique “voice” comes through your letter.

If you have bad news to declare, state the facts and how you’ve been impacted. “Mom has passed away this year and her warmth and consistent smile will be missed.” Don’t utilize your letter as a cathartic experience to work through your pain and grief. If you simply must, then do this on a separate document and extract just a few meaningful thoughts from it into your holiday letter. Keep the news sober but not somber. Remember — ’tis the season to be jolly and you don’t want your bad news to rob others of the proverbial holiday spirit.

The holiday letter can include trips you’ve taken, awards you’ve won, new job positions you’ve attained, classes you may have taken, new developments your baby has pulled off, or anything of interest you have experienced within the year. You may have a variety of things to share, but, again, select the ones most worthy of mention.

If you find yourself in this contrasting predicament: You want to send out a letter but you don’t feel you have anything notable to mention … You surely do! You don’t need to have an extravagant piece of news to report. Your friends simply want an update on how you’re doing and how you’ve spent the previous 12 months.

Looking through your calendar (or checkbook!) might bring some momentous events to mind. Even if you didn’t earn a doctorate and don’t feel you’ve achieved anything remarkable, you may want to talk about how calm and delightfully uneventful your year has been. In our hectic culture, “ordinary” can sometimes be a welcome state of being! Outline the things in your life bringing pleasure or peace; a dog who faithfully greets you each night at the door, a boyfriend who honors you with a phone call each morning or a new-found appreciation for flaming pink sunsets.

You may also want to add some elements of distinction to your traditional letter that people can look forward to each year:

  • A favorite holiday recipe
  • Your top 10 newly uncovered travel tips or destinations
  • A collage of recent pictures that you’ve scanned and printed out
  • A list of books you’ve read this year and would like to recommend

And remember, this isn’t a term paper. Use your own informal style and keep it simple. Use humor (but only if you’re naturally funny), and don’t try to sound like someone else. Use an easy-to-read typestyle and by all means check your spelling for errors before you sign and seal the document!

You need not spend a lot of money or make your letter fancy. But you must include three elements: keep it brief, interesting and visually appealing.

If you begin now, you’ll have a couple of weeks to reflect, review or rewrite your letter before you need to send it out in time for the holidays. But of course if you’re too strapped for time, blow off the December deadline and make yours a New Year’s greeting. You just might get more readership when your envelope shows up in your recipient’s mailbox free of competing holiday correspondence!


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