December 1, 2015

The Dreaded Christmas Letter

by Gary Fearon, Creative Director, Southern Writers Magazine

Whether writing them or receiving them, there's an underlying dread associated with the traditional Christmas letter.  For those who write them, it's one more deadline to meet during an already busy time of year. For those who receive them, it can mean slogging through a lengthy recitation about people we haven't stayed in touch with, and a reminder of why.

Since you're a writer, you're determined not to let your letter be a yuletide yawner.  Here are 12 tips to make your Christmas letter a holiday classic.

1. Colored paper adds a festive touch. White is fine, but pastel green or pink paper gives things an extra splash of holiday magic.  If you're inclined, you can spend money on fancy decorative paper with holiday bordering, but keep in mind that it requires extra formatting and that the design eats up some of your wordage space.

2. Try to keep it to one page. While it's not a crime to continue on the flip side, you risk recipient apprehension before they even start reading. That said, many people are fine reading two pagers (including me).  Nonetheless, Christmas letter authorities advise one page.

3. Don't use a tiny font. You can't go wrong with a highly readable 12-point Arial or Times (11-point in a pinch).  Save any decorative fonts for a header if desired ("Holiday Greetings from the Addams Family").

4. Write in your voice. It's tempting to chronicle your year like a reporter, but your reader wants to hear from you, not Dan Rather. Share your news in a conversational style, first person.

5. Provide interesting updates about each member of the immediate family.  Be proud but not prideful.  "I was honored to be chosen Writer of the Millennia.  I hope I'm up to the challenge."   It's more okay to brag on others.  "Billy was voted MVP at his State Championship game."

6. Share feelings along with the facts. How did this or that affect you? What are you looking forward to? This adds humanity to your newsletter.

7. Share accomplishments, not acquisitions.  Would you really want to know what kind of car your cousin drives?

8. Avoid too much detail.  Long paragraphs equal audience repellent.  Write tight and you can get more subject matter in less space.

9. Be positive. The point is to spread holiday cheer, so try to keep bad news to a minimum. Update important things like a death in the family, but even then "We will miss Uncle Buck but are grateful for the wonderful memories we have" offers a silver lining.

10. Keep the topics appropriate for every recipient.  Hallmark recommends writing two letters, one for friends and family, and another for more casual acquaintances. (To me, they're lucky to get a card.)
11. End with a good thought, appreciation, an invitation, etc.  It's okay to get a little sentimental here.  It's Christmas.  You can also encourage communication by including your current address and phone number.

12. Sign it by hand.  Better yet, add a personalized line for each recipient.  "Miss you and hope to see you soon" takes an extra 15 seconds and is more cherished than the letter itself.

Whether you include your letter folded up in a Christmas card or send it in its own envelope, it's more likely to get an enthusiastic reception using these time-honored tips.  For an added touch, attractive return address labels are easy to print or cheap to have made, and don't forget holiday stamps from the post office.  

Which begs the question, couldn't you just send your Christmas letter via email?  Sure you could, but if you do it won't get hung on the refrigerator with care.

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