Write a Christmas letter to spread joy, not paper cuts

It’s the most exclamation mark-y time of the year. The most adjective-y. The most single-space-y, three-page-y, land-the-plane-already-y time of the year.

It’s the Christmas letter time of the year.

It would seem to be a quaint relic in this era of 24-hour over-share, when it seems there’s very little people don’t know about each other instantly and in high definition. Yet the Christmas letter persists, written with care and folded into an envelope with a shiny card and a family photo. Or it’s e-mailed and filled with a ton of hot links.

Either way, there is wonderful constancy to be found in a Christmas letter, a reassurance that all is mostly right with the world. Writers of Christmas letters summarize the preceding year, highlighting achievements, mapping out travelogues, offering wishes of health and prosperity for one and all.

They’re delightful, except when they’re not. Everyone has received That Letter, the one that gloats, that drones, that rhymes, that drips sap, that offers excruciating and embarrassing detail.

Don’t write that letter, OK? Instead:

DO write from the heart. The immortality of O. Henry notwithstanding, there’s no need for irony at Christmas. Sincerity gets carte blanche this time of year.

DON’T gloat. Nobody likes that person or that letter. It’s OK to be proud of your kids’ accomplishments, to revel in the travels you made, to rejoice in good fortune, but truth requires no embellishment.

Yes: “In June, we went to Aruba and tried wind surfing for the first time. It’s harder than it looks, we discovered! We enjoyed snorkeling through coral reefs and lounging on the beach.”

No: “We took a truly FANTASTIC trip to Aruba over the summer and are seriously considering buying property there. It was absolutely LIFE CHANGING! We dined on EXQUISITE seafood every night! We ADORED the natives’ simple innocence — such humility! We truly felt like locals! Now, we be chillin’ island style, mon!”

Yes: “Daughter was valedictorian of her graduating class, and we are very proud of her. She was nervous about her speech, but she did a really good job. We’re excited about her future!”

No: “After four years of EXCRUCIATINGLY HARD WORK in one of the country’s most PRESTIGIOUS international baccalaureate programs, Daughter was RIGHTLY named valedictorian of her graduating class of 500 students. Her speech, entitled ‘My Future’s So Bright I Gotta Wear Shades, But I Don’t Know About the Rest of You Suckers’ brought the entire auditorium to tears. We think she has a REAL FUTURE in speech writing or public policy, and then she’ll do us all a favor and serve as President of the United States. Or maybe be a fashion designer. Who’s awesome? Her!!!”

DO go lightly on the adjectives. Squidoo.com advises reconsidering a constant effusion of “great” and “exciting” and “fabulous.” If every sentence is about your “wonderful” trip to “beautiful” Albania and all the “exquisite” wine you drank, think about losing a few descriptors.

DON’T write a letter that reads like a doctoral thesis. Write like you talk, squidoo.com advises. A conversational style more appropriately fits the friendly camaraderie that a Christmas letter represents.

DO be yourself. If you’re not someone who normally writes poetry, don’t bust out the free verse in your Christmas letter. If you’re not Captain Hilarious by nature, don’t think you have to keep ’em in stitches through your letter.

DON’T forget to read it (and edit it) before you print the final copy. Spell check. Grammar check. Read it out loud to gauge how it sounds.

DO accentuate the positive. If it’s been a hard year, you don’t need to ignore that, but it’s not essential to point out in a Christmas letter that Sister continues in her struggles with substance abuse and that Husband has been unemployed for eight months and is really depressed. This may be the truth, but it’s embarrassing for one and all to read it in a Christmas letter. Mention the things that went right, the small forward steps people made, the moments that brought joy.

DON’T do an acrostic. Please. Lots of websites advise this as a creative way to do a Christmas letter, but seriously: C is for the car we bought in September, H is for the hornet nests that plagued our patio all summer, R is for the refund we got from the IRS and spent on a new water heater… PLEASE DON’T DO IT.

DO have fun, though. In her book “Ideas for Writing Creative Christmas Letters that People Are Actually Eager to Read!” author Janet Colbrunn advises being creative.

Do a quiz. Make a game. Compile a list. Write a story. Use technology to incorporate photos and graphics into your letter. Print it on festive paper.

DON’T drone on and on. No matter how interesting the year, how excellent the writer, how amusing the stories, it’s hard to read a four-page Christmas letter.

DO include sincere wishes for joy and happiness not just during the holidays, but the whole year through.

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Christmas letter — Mad Libs style

At this most wonderful time of the year, our hearts are filled with generosity and love for all humanity. Because of that, and because we know you’re busy, we offer our official Easy Does It, Fill-in-the-Blanks Insta Christmas Letter!

Instead of agonizing for hours about what you’re going to write and send to friends and family, just fill in this letter, make a few copies and relax with a sigh and a cup of cocoa.

Dear ________________ (name of someone you know),

Happy holidays! It’s that time again, when we reflect on the ______________ (adjective) and _______________ (over-the-top adjective) year we’ve had. Our ____________ (body part, plural) are filled with ______________ (emotion), and I’m not just talking about the ______________ (condition or disease) diagnosis ________________ (name of family member) received in April! No, I’m talking about the ______________ (intangible noun) and _______________ (intangible noun) that make this season so very _______________ (adjective)!

Our year began with a bang — literally! On New Year’s Day, our ______________ (household appliance) _______________ (verb, past tense), and let me tell you, that’ll get the ol’ _______________ (body part) ________________ (verb ending in –ing)! But, the fire department responded quickly, so we were very ________________ (adjective)!

I’d just like to _____________ (verb) our _____________ (adjective) men and women in uniform. They are the _______________ (spice or seasoning) that make America ________________ (adjective)!

In the spring, we went to _______________ (country). It was the trip of a lifetime! We told ourselves, “pack lightly!” but ended up bringing ____________ (number) suitcases, anyway! Whoopsie! It was so amazing to fly in and see all the ______________ (geographical feature) and ______________ (geographical feature), things we’d only seen before in old issues of ______________ (magazine) at the doctor’s office!

Once we checked into our hotel, which was right on the ______________ (geographical feature), we had six full days of ______________ (verb ending in –ing), ______________ (verb ending in –ing) and ________________ (verb ending in –ing)! We feasted on _____________ (food) and ______________ (food) every day, and we especially enjoyed the ______________ (food), which is a local specialty. Except for ____________ (name of family member), who ended up with a little funny _____________ (body part). But what’s a little ____________ (condition or disease) between friends, am I right?

And you’ll never guess what! We met ______________ (celebrity)! Yes, he/she was staying at the same hotel, and was just as nice as could be! Except, shorter than you’d think.

Anyway, it was absolutely ______________ (adjective) and we’re counting the days until we can return and making sure there are no extradition treaties in place.

Of course, _______________ (name of family member) graduated _____________ (ordinal number) in his class and spent the summer ______________ (verb ending in –ing) at a shelter for _________________ (adjective) ______________ (noun, plural). We’re so ______________ (adjective) of him! He entered ________________ (name of school) and is exploring possible majors, including _______________ (field of study) and ______________ (field of study). Whatever he does, we know he’ll be _______________ (adjective) — he’s related to us, after all! ; )

_______________ (name of family member) is making great strides in her struggle with _______________ (intangible noun). We had a teensy relapse in October — whoopsie! — but the _______________ (law enforcement body) let us know everything should be OK in ____________ (number) to _____________ (number) years. Hooray!

As I’m sure you guessed, _______________ (name of family member) devoted every spare minute to ________________ (hobby) this year. Talk about obsession! Paging Captain Ahab! He just heads down to the _____________ (room of the house) for _______________ (unit of time, plural)! And when he’s not there, he’s out working on his _____________ (sport) game. He really enjoys it! He’s just so busy, we’ll go ____________ (unit of time, plural) without seeing each other! I guess as far as he’s concerned, you can just call our house the ______________ (name of hotel)! Hello, room service? ; )

As for me, I’m still busy at ______________ (name of company). My co-worker _______________ (name) and I are working on a really _______________ (adjective) project, so we’re often burning the ____________ (time of day) oil. But I don’t mind, because it’s just nice to be with someone who really understands me.

In my free time, I’m still an active member of my ____________ (hobby) group, and next year we’re planning a trip to ________________ (historical U.S. landmark) to appreciate all the _____________ (adjective) ______________ (craft item, plural). I can’t wait!

To end our year on an especially special note, we added a new member to our family! Yes, a _____________ (adjective) _______________ (animal) came to live with us! We call her _____________ (name) and she’s just as _____________ (adjective) and ______________ (adjective) as can be! We all adore her, and whisper our secrets to her! And the vet says we can wean her off the anti-anxiety meds in the next few months!

Anyway, it’s been a _______________ (adjective) year! We hope your ____________ (body part, plural) are filled with ________________ (emotion) at this special time, and remember that we _____________ (verb) and _____________ (verb) you, and hope the next year brings ______________ (intangible noun) and ______________ (intangible noun)!

Merry Christmas and a happy new year!


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