How to write a Christmas letter: you asked for it…

A lot of folks have been coming to my site looking for advice on how to write a Christmas letter. While I think the important thing is just to do something (!) and not worry too much about what you include, I guess I can share some ideas or tips for those who may be at a loss for how to write such a thing….

(1) When I write the letter from the family, I use third person, i.e., I write about myself as a “she” and use my name rather than saying “I.” This may feel a bit weird to write this way, but I figure the letter is from my whole family, and I write only one letter that goes to friends and family connected to both me AND to my husband. So, thinking from the readers’ perspective, I figure it’s best just to refer to each of us by name. That way, my husband’s aunt and uncle in Florida, whom I’ve never met, do not wonder who this “I” is who is writing the letter!

(2) I start with a general welcome and a little overview of the year for the whole family (a year of great change, of adventure, of challenges, of loss and love, etc.) Then I spend a paragraph or so on each family member’s individual details and then one or more paragraphs about family-wide news (trips or church or what-have-you). In each paragraph, I try to include some specific details that I think will be most interesting to readers. This means I do not put in everything that my son is doing this year (as if I could anyway!) For example, I did not mention that he is still playing travel team soccer and joined an orchestra (for which he plays cello) this year. But I did put in some details about his new school and his view of the big road trip we took this summer. If your kids are old enough (and your spouse or partner is willing), it’s a great help to ask them what they think is most important to share about their year. They may need a little reminding of what happened months ago, but reviewing the year like this can be a really fun thing to do together.

(3) I try to be honest but upbeat. It’s okay, I think, to share something not so pleasant if that event was important. It’s okay and perhaps even necessary, I might even argue. Sharing the challenges we are facing or have faced this year helps us be more authentically connected to our loved ones. Of course, there’s a way to do this that doesn’t depress the reader too much. I try to sandwich bad news between good news, or at least to end the paragraph in which I bring up the bad news with some good news. This is also a good process for us, as it enables us to think about positive outcomes or to count our blessings, no matter how hard a situation we face. Now, that said, if someone is facing a grief or issue just too catastrohpic and raw to adopt this attitude, I’d say, don’t worry about any of this. Either skip the letter and card writing altogether, or send a little note in a holiday card that says, “It’s been a really tough year. Just wanted you to know we love you.”

(4) It’s particularly nice if you can either describe a scene or include something funny in your letter along with more serious issues. Kids say some cute things sometimes. If you can work in something like that, it’ll bring a smile to the reader. Doesn’t even have to be something from this year. Our letter this year annouced that we had lost our beloved dog who died of a brain tumor. I shared a memory from when our son was a baby. His first word was “Dag!” which he yelled with gusto, pointing to the pup with one fist and waving a dog toy in his other hand. I tried to show this scene for the reader with some details. Happy memories mixed with sad for a bittersweet quality. Then I went on to share about our new dog and her shenanigans.

(5) If you have any photos in digital form, it is a great idea to include these (with captions — don’t forget!) in the letter. People love to see photos. Make sure you include pixs not just of the kids but also of adults. Relatives may really want to see your face and not just your kids!

(6) In terms of format, I do single space paragraphs with an extra space between paragraphs. It’s important to use a readable font. Some people go crazy with special fonts, but if there are any elders on your recipient list, they woud appreciate a font that is easy to read! Also, make sure there is some white space. Readers need that visually or they get overwhelmed by text. I also leave a space at the bottom of the last page to write a hand-written note. Usually not a huge space, but I try to leave an inch and a half at least. People like to know you took at least a little time to write something to them by hand.

Well, so these are my humble suggestions! But in all honesty, I think anything you do will be appreciated. People generally DO like to hear from you, so just remember that you have a friendly audience. They will not be critical. They will willingly read what you write. It will not get thrown in the trash unopened. How often in life can we say this is true of what we write!!

5 Responses

  1. Eek, Christmas LETTER? This year I’ve had trouble finding time and energy to sign and address a little over twenty CARDS. I get fewer and fewer cards every year. I suppose cyberspace is to blame: why spend fifty cents on postage when you can drop someone Season’s Greetings for nuttin’? Thanks for the post, you’ve given me something to shoot for…er…next year…

  2. Ah, well, for some I send the letter and no card — they get a bigger “gift” that way. I usually print page one on some holidayish paper. I figure that counts as a “card.” Oh, and I asked my husband to put addresses in a spreadshett and print labels for me on stickers. This year I did it by hand, but usually I use the labels. Shortcuts are fine. People don’t care, ya know!

  3. Great post. That all sounds “do-able” and yet is very good advice as well.

  4. I’m so glad you left me your blog address! And I hit at the perfect time. I use to write a letter and send it every year when the kids were small, but I haven’t done it in about 10 yrs. Like Mr. Burns above, I usually just send an e-card but there are a lot of email addresses I don’t have. My girlfriends I grew up with (I usually just call), old classmates, etc. Then you listen to some people about those letters, their like the proverbial fruitcake. LOL.

    I’ve been hearing a lot about them lately, (try to keep them to 1 page, etc.) but this was the icing on the cake. I think I just might go ahead and sit down and do some good old fashioned Christmas cards, with a letter.

    Thanks for the incentive!

  5. ladybeams, glad you could stop by and that the timing was so good 🙂

    I don’t have everyone’s email addresses, either, so letters work well. Plus, even people whom I do email seem to like receiving letters. It’s nice to have real mail in amongst the piles of bills, catalogues, and other junk mail that comes to our homes!

    Good luck on your letter!

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