The Perfect Holiday Letter

Learn how to write the perfect holiday letter, mixing the right amount of cheer and accolades without gushing in this easy-to-follow list of do's and don'ts.

Each holiday countless well-wishers, eager to share their year's triumphs, unintentionally alienate friends and family members. How? By sending a laundry list of achievements, promotions and vacations that reek of vanity and tell little of what really matters to those anxious for news.

The holiday letter. Divergent opinions abound as folks discuss the appropriateness of a letter that, frequently, is the only effort at correspondence from a given conveyor for the entire year. Cheery letters boasting of new titles, vacation destinations and the kids' ranking in school are viewed as empty and unnecessary. Worse, they have the potential of projecting superiority, even if that's not what the sender intended.

A well-written holiday letter can be warm, informative and welcome if the writer takes care to consider a few important tips.

1. Do consider your audience. Look at your list. You may have ten families or a hundred. Some you may see often while others are simply acquaintances or friends from previous residences. Each looks at your relationship differently and each will have different desires about what they would like to know about you (if anything). Also, be sensitive to economic differences. You may have been blessed to build a 4,000 square foot addition to your home AND go to the British Isles for a three week family vacation, but does everyone on your list need to know the size and extent of your monetary windfall? Besides, what does your home addition tell about you?

2. Don't write one general letter. Consider targeting letters to separate circles of friends. You might classify groups according to: extended families (yours, your mate's), colleagues, neighbors (old and new), church friends and close friends. Obviously, you wouldn't want to be as personal in your letter to colleagues as you would to family.

3. Do identify people and places you mention in your letter. Nothing is more annoying than reading about your visit to Teri's house last spring when the reader has no clue who Teri is and why it would have been important for you to visit her (or him?). Tell the reader your relationship to the people and places to which you refer. Remember, not all of your readers know the people you know and city names mean little without reference to a state.

4. Don't bore readers with titles. Being promoted to "Operations Analyst Manager" means little to anyone not associated with your company. Your readers will imagine you are everything from one-step-away-from-CEO to lowly-peon, analyst of anything meaningless. (Anyway, who cares?) Instead, if your promotion played an important role in your year, tell something about a project you were especially proud of that helped you earn a promotion. Or, you can mention that you were able to meet (maybe even exceed) your career goals for the year. Your readers want to know about you--your rank, per se, is irrelevant.

5. Do write with feeling. Laundry lists of accomplishments tell a hungry recipient nothing about you or your life. What made you happy this year? What made you sad? What are your hopes and dreams? Put away the material accomplishments and trust your instincts to write about what you feel. Friends and family want to know *how* you are, not how *great* you are.

6. Don't be afraid of the truth. For some reason there's this feeling that holiday letters must only address accomplishments and fine things. You might balk at even writing a letter if there are no promotions, vacations or otherwise glitzy achievements to report. It doesn't have to be so. Maybe you've had a terrible year where everything seemed to go in reverse. If your friends and family are truly friends and family, they will still be interested. And if you feel you must have a positive note, write about what you have learned from your year or how your character has changed.

7. Do consider why you are writing a holiday letter. If you need to impress upon people that you are a success, perhaps you should forego the letter and send a nice card with a pretty signature. If you are truly interested in these people and would like to continue a meaningful exchange with them, send a letter filled with news they will welcome and encourage them to do the same. Your holiday letter is an extension of you and your family. Read it with a critical eye and be sure you are conveying who you are and what you want to say.

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