10 Tips on Writing a Holiday Letter People Might Actually Want to Read

Reindeer Kids
Hey, Rudolph!

Happy Holidays!

How many December holidays can you name? Christmas and Chanukah, for sure. I found a page on the Internet that lists 23 monthly, 16 weekly, and 127 daily December holidays and observances. Just a few—

  • Colorectal Cancer Education and Awareness Month
  • Human Rights Week (10-17)
  • Chanukah (16-24)
  • Kwanzaa (26-1/1)
  • Day of the Ninja (5)
  • Microwave Oven Day (6)
  • International Children’s Day (14)
  • National Chocolate-Covered Anything Day (16)
  • Winter Solstice! (21)
  • Christmas (25)
  • Make Cutout Snowflakes Day (27)
  • No Interruptions Day (31)

So are you sending cards? There’s an app (or 50) for that. 

The Greeting Card Association said the industry sells about 2.1 billion holiday cards per year, below the 2.7 billion sold around the turn of the century. However, sales of all types of e-cards combined are only about 500 million per year. It seems most of us still like paper cards.

My husband and I haven’t sent cards in decades. It’s not the expense that shut us down—it was finding the time to track down addresses, write a personal note on each card, and actually get them to the post office. E-cards were a non-starter.

My Dad has sent cards for 60 years. At one time, he and my mother had more than 200 people on their card list. Pretty much everyone on their list sent cards to them.

And what about the dreaded holiday letter? Don’t smirk—you know you’ve sent one! Maybe we’d like them better if they were written better. Here are my Creative Power Writing tips for those who simply must share their year.

  1. Keep it short. Leave them wanting more.
  2. Keep it upbeat. No one wants to hear “Happy Chanukah” from Debbie Downer.
  3. Write in your own conversational voice. Save the long, complicated sentences and 10-dollar words for your doctoral thesis.
  4. Don’t state the obvious. Yes, the year flew by. But like those Geico ads, “Everybody knows that.”
  5. Be proud of accomplishments, but don’t make your letter a bragfest. Are these recipients your friends and family or your fan club? They’ll see through your shameless grandstanding anyway and you’ll just look pitiful.
  6. Include a couple of photos. A couple. That means two or three, not ten.
  7. Tell a story, or individual stories for each family member. Humans are wired to respond to stories. You can let each person write his or her own contribution.
  8. Find a theme, and relate each person’s story to it. For example, “Our Funniest Moments,” “Our Favorite Recipes,” “What We’re Grateful For,” “Destinations,” “What We Learned from TV Commercials,” “Our Favorite Music.”

    These can be real or tongue-in-cheek. For example, “Ted drove everyone crazy playing ‘Who Let the Dogs Out?’ over and over. We made four—count ‘em, four!—trips to the pound to rescue his dog Tramp before we found the escape tunnel under the fence.” Or, “We decided to take separate vacations this year. Oh, we all had a grand time in Ocean City, but Mike went ‘On the Road,’ I lounged on the beach with Stephen King, and Jordan responded to the ‘Call of Duty.’ We did have scrumptious blue crabs together at a new restaurant, ‘Skippers.’”

  9. Use your spelling and grammar checkers. Word draws those red and green squiggles to mark errors, not as tinsel for your letter. Even after using checkers, get someone else to proofread for you, too.
  10. Use humor and creativity, and your holiday letter will be shared and treasured, rather than dreaded and shredded.

I’m working on my holiday epic now…