|Holiday letters are a tradition for many, even in the wake of e-mail, personal websites, and digital photography. Here are some tips to make yours stand out, get your point across, and connect with friends and family at this special time of year.
Keep It Light and Positive
This isn't the time to lament the passing of another year, or to complain of how you put your back out hanging the Christmas lights. The idea is to make a connection, share the holiday spirit, and spread the contagious happiness that comes with the holiday season. Strive for a combination of good news, family accomplishments, and humor.
By all means, share bad news; but don't dwell on it. Your loved ones will appreciate your honesty and not be left feeling like they'll have a Blue Christmas after reading your holiday letter. Kick off your letter with a cheerful greeting and a paragraph or so about positive ideas and events. Likewise, make sure you finish off on a bright note, leaving a smile on the reader's face.
Short and Sweet Is Best
It's not difficult to expand on a topic, accomplishment, or major event in your life, eventually typing pages and pages of commentary and detailed description. Bring out your inner editor though, and keep things short and to the point. Even the people who are closest to you will feel daunted when faced with a holiday letter that reads like War and Peace.
Your letter should be, ideally, about two type-written pages in length. If you've had an especially busy year, focus only on the major happenings and leave the rest to a brief mention – no more than a sentence for each.
Decorative is Fine, But Make it Readable
Stores are full of beautiful holiday stationary. A simple online search will yield hundreds of seasonal fonts, not to mention the endless supply of festive images available for easy insertion in your holiday letter. As the old saying goes, you can have too much of a good thing.
Skip the holiday fonts if you can. If you simply must use the snow-capped candy cane letters, then use them only in your greeting, or to create a cover letter that includes a holiday poem or verse. If you're using decorative stationary, clip art in festive shapes is not necessary. Keep it simple; your friends and relatives will thank you for it.
For some reason, sitting down to write a letter that will be read by dozens of people brings out our inner wordsmith. Throwing around big words and frilly phrases might sound like a good idea at the time, but remember that the people who will be reading these words are people who already know you. They want to hear from you, not from the poet who resides somewhere in the depths of your mind.
While we're on the subject, resist writing your letter from the point of view of your newborn baby or your pet iguana. It might seem cute and kitschy to you, but it's difficult to pull off well and will result in much eye rolling and confused looks from your loved ones.
Avoid Bragging, and Be Honest
You have every right to be proud of your accomplishments and those of your immediate family. Share them, share your pride, share your joy! But try to refrain from embellishing or bragging. Your audience wants to catch up with you, not hear about how perfect your life and your family is.
Add a Photo, Not a Photo Album
Photos make a lovely addition to a holiday letter, even if you have your entire year digitally preserved on your family web page. People will want to see what you and your kids (if you have them) look like. Include a recent picture, and bonus points go to those whose photo relates back to something you described in your letter, like a summer vacation or a graduation ceremony.
This is another time to show restraint, though. Maybe you have seventy-two pictures of your baby that were taken just last week, and you can't decide which ones are the cutest. Force yourself to choose, because not only will a stack of photos end up costing you a mint in postage, your readers will be overwhelmed at the deluge. In you have your photos online, include a link to your website in your letter, but still include an actual picture with your letter.
Make it Personal
You don't have to handwrite 200 holiday letters. Who has that kind of time, especially during the holiday season? Feel free to use the computer, or type up one letter and have it photocopied. But address each letter by hand, and sign each one as well. Add a brief, personal note to each one if you can.
Where applicable, add a little bonus to your letters. Have an aunt who loves to cook? Pass along a clipping of a recipe that you think she might like to try. Is your neighbor an avid reader? Send a book review or homemade bookmark. Small touches like these will make the recipients feel special, and they'll know that you were thinking of them specifically rather than just sending out a blanket holiday greeting.
When the Letters Are Ready ...
Once your letters have been completed and signed, this is the time to get really organized. Set up your envelopes, photos, stamps, address book, and anything else you need in assembly-line fashion, and get the rest of the family to pitch in. Put on some holiday music and turn on the tree lights, and promise everyone some hot cocoa and Christmas cookies as a reward when the task is complete. Make it as much fun as you can, and the job itself will be less daunting.
When you're all done, sit back and relax. You've got a whole year to go before you have to do this all over again! Happy Holidays!