Several years ago, I mentioned to a friend that I couldn’t stand receiving SOME holiday letters because of the things people write in them. Apparently she didn’t believe me when I told her I didn’t mean HER letters, because she didn’t send me her Christmas letter again for about 10 years.
I promise I wasn’t talking about her letters, but I don’t think I’m alone when I say that I’m tired of receiving bragging holiday letters about people’s Nobel-prize winning children or the opposite, the ones that contained every tragedy the person had experienced in the past year.
So I decided to go back to look at cards and letters I actually kept to see what makes them not only memorable, but worth keeping. Here’s what I learned about sending an annual holiday update that people actually look forward to receiving.
Keep it simple and short
A good holiday letter is short and to the point. Think about what you’d share if you had 10 minutes to talk with a friend you hadn’t seen in the past year. The letters I keep include major events and a quick update on each family member or they include funny or inspiring stories unique to that person or family.
Inform, don’t brag
I’ll never forget the letter I received where a friend said, “Todd is settling into his new job as VP nicely. He is in charge of more than 1000 people, but he still manages to drive his brand new $45,950, 1990 Mercedes 300e home every day to have lunch with me in our new 4000 square foot home in the gated community of ______.”
It’s okay to inform, but too much detail can become bragging. I’m happy Todd got a new car and likes driving it. That’s great. But I don’t care about the model year of the car and how much money he spent on it. I also don’t think most people need to know that you live in an exclusive community or how big your home is. If I see your return address and I care how big your house is, whether your community is gated, or how much you paid for it, I can stalk your house on Zillow.com and find out all about it. Additionally, most people are also happy to hear your child won an award, however, you don’t need to go on to state how he beat out a bunch of other loser kids to get it. Finally- one major accomplishment is probably enough, people don’t need every family member’s CV of accomplishments for 2017.
Hit the highlights of the past year, don’t share everything
Share quick stories and anecdotes that you would tell a friend over lunch. If there was some significant event, good or bad, that had a major impact on your family, now is the time to share that too. Photos are also another great thing to share. They make letters more interesting to read/see, and I like seeing how much people’s kids have grown over the past year. I also like to see how much older my friends look from year to year (just kidding).
Be judicious when sharing bad news
Of course people care and want to know if there was a death in your family or an illness. Your Christmas card, however, is not the place to relate every detail across multiple pages. The same goes for divorces, layoffs, and other “bad” news. It’s okay to share, but don’t dampen holiday cheer by lamenting, wailing, or railing against that deadbeat ex of yours.
Be sure to personalize the card and/or letter
One year I received a holiday card that had a sticker for the return address and a computer-generated sticker for my mailing information. When I opened it, not only was the card unsigned, it wasn’t even pre-printed with the sender’s name. (Picture a card you just bought at the store, stuck straight in an envelope, and sent.) There was a photocopied holiday letter inside that was also unsigned.
Is an impersonal, unsigned, card a way to show that you truly care about someone at the holidays, or are you just checking a box?
The purpose of a holiday letter is to let those you care for and love know what you’ve been up to the past year. If you can’t take the time to at least write “Dear Mary” and “Love Sue, John, and Eric” in the card, then it’s probably time you review your card list and for each person on it, ask yourself whether you really still have or want to maintain a relationship with that person.
Don’t send your holiday letter to business associates
If you’ve not established a close-personal relationship with a business associate, it’s probably best NOT to send them your personal holiday letter. Stick to sending a nice card, or if it’s a client, a nice card and note expressing your appreciation for their business.