If you’re Old School like me, you know early December is Christmas card season. If you have several out-of-towners on your list, you’re preparing a holiday letter too.
By cards, I’m not talking emailed Jib Jabs or eCards by Jaquie Lawson. I mean old-fashioned stamp-it and mail-it cards. Determining who to receive your holiday greetings isn’t rocket science, but if you’re sending more than a few letters to people in your own zip code, you probably aren’t getting out enough.
Christmas letters are an institution. The trick is to keep the letter informative and not too braggy while covering the bases. The “bases” consist of job, family, change of address, pets and trips. If you’re retired, you substitute more trips and volunteer work/hobbies.
I’ve written a Christmas letter each year since we moved here 36 years ago, a nice, tidy record of our life in North Carolina. I want to think that most friends and family enjoy reading our annual update, but creating it takes some care. I like a movie trailer or jacket copy for a book, you can’t cram everything into a paragraph or two.
Some of the most effective messages are short and sweet. One gentleman we’ve known for decades is getting up in years. His holiday message came last week: “Just here. 87 years old. Got your card. Happy Xmas.” Even “Christmas” is abbreviated.
I pondered this cryptic message and determined that it works. It’s informative and not braggy. He’s told us he’s alive, not much has changed and he acknowledged we’re still alive too, followed with a cheerful greeting. When I’m 87, I hope I can manage as much.
I know from reading letters and transcribing more than a few (including 34 years of my mother’s diaries) that we lead lives of quiet desperation. In other words, we’re boring.
If you’re new to the Christmas letter game you may need some pointers from One Who Knows, so here goes:
- Keep it short. Those letters that ramble on front and back in 8 point type are….well, too rambly. Brevity is the soul of wit and restraint the heart of valor.
- Print the letter on legible paper—not too dark, not too light, not too much frou frou in the margins. Use a legible font. Please, no cute script or Olde English type that’s hard to read. This isn’t Olde England.
- Dial back on the braggy stuff. It’s great that Sonny just made Phi Beta Kappa and Sissy was awarded a full-ride to Carolina, but we probably don’t need their grade point average. And it’s great that your Celebrity Cruise isn’t called “celebrity” for nothing, but we don’t need to know how many times you dined with the Captain and/or Tennille. (If you don’t know who Tennille is, you’ve probably never written a Christmas letter.)
- Acknowledge that the receiver exists. Toast their good health, happiness and prosperity, Say you look forward to seeing them or hearing from them, even if you don’t.
- Avoid the “organ recital”—those letters that list every cold, bout with the flu, flare-ups of bursitis and psoriasis. Certainly you will want to give an update on serious illness, accident or major surgery, but brevity rules.
- Announce your new spouse. We were mystified by a friend who signed his card “Rick and Chris.” We weren’t sure if “Chris” was a domestic partner, an adopted child or a pet. For this reason, I only include our dogs “signature” for those who know that Jolene and Mr. Furr are canines.
- Avoid politics.
- Don’t tell us about your new vehicle(s).
- Pare the list. Once a “tradition” begins, it’s hard to stop, even if the recipients are still alive. Try anyway.
- Include a return address. This is essential if ever want to hear from us again. If you’re in a witness protection program, a P.O. Box will do.