I like Christmas letters. Since the advent of Facebook, the need for the annual brag sheet has diminished. Now people can brag every day–several times a day–with short blurbs and accompanying photos of the outfit, the meal, the cute pet, the precocious kid, the beach, the boyfriend, the award, the anniversary, the event….
I still receive several Christmas letters (and photo cards and traditional cards) every year. Some I anticipate and read instantly, others I set aside for a quiet afternoon because they take a little more work, or nerve, or caffein, or self-talk, to get through.
You might be a Christmas letter writer (or are considering becoming one) and are wondering if people read (or would read) your humble offering. The answer is yes if you understand the purpose and apply a few simple strategies to the process.
Why do we write an annual letter and send it to faraway friends and relatives? Think about what you are looking for when you receive a Christmas letter. You want snippets of news about the family: marriages, births, noteworthy accomplishments, moves, and other big news.
And, ideally, you want to feel good after you’ve read it, not beaten down because in comparison to that family you’ve spawned a gaggle of losers, stalled out in your low-end job, and are ugly!
- Your purpose is to share the family news, not to convince, persuade, convert, sell to, brag, or influence the reader. It is to inform (share your life) so consider carefully what you include, and what you leave out.
- You might also want to inspire, entertain or encourage your reader. This can be done with a short humorous anecdote, some self-effacing comment that relates your humanness (I’m an average gal, just like you), or relating a heart warming anecdote that will evoke warm thoughts (not jealousy).
If you write the letter, say I or me in the first paragraph and sign the bottom with your name. Since this will be one page only, all I have to do to identify you is glance down. Don’t be a narrator or a third party in your own story. It’s impersonal. The reader wants to know who (whom?) is speaking.
Never go over one page. What?! I’m kidding right? No. I’m not. If you want to write a Christmas letter people will read, keep it short. This is the age of texting and emoticons my friends. One page max.
What do restaurants do so they can charge ridiculous prices for small portions? They make it look pretty. A $50 coin-sized filet mignon on a platter is acceptable to the patron (not me, give me a teen burger) because of the fancy garnish and the elegance of white space.
If your Christmas letter looks pretty, people will read it. What’s pretty? White space. Yup, the part with NO WORDS. The fancy paper is not what makes the difference. The key is what your reader sees at first glance. Does it look doable.
It the page is crammed with words in a small font because you grudgingly are following the one-page rule but are still going to tell us three pages of factoids, it won’t get read. Well, not right away.
- Use a font at least 12, possibly 14, so it’s easy to see.
- Leave an extra line between paragraphs.
- Keep paragraphs short–no more than three lines.
- Write in the active, not passive, voice: “keep paragraphs short” instead of “paragraphs should be kept to an absolute minimum at all times in a blah blah blah”
- Emphasize with italics or bold, but sparingly.
- Use caps to SHOUT but only if you really must.
- Look at the page like it’s a photo, does it appeal? Does it invite you to read it? The answer is yes if there is enough white space to indicate you won’t have aged before you’re finished.
- Use bullet points for lists–factoids re: the kids and/or grandkids, jobs, moves, births, deaths, accomplishments (if you must brag, tell it to the person you would have written about and leave it out or find a way to share it humbly).
Edit like a Pro
- If you can say it in 500 words you can say it in 250: remove
needlessfiller words like “that, just, very” and many adjectives. Remember, this isn’t a novel. The reader does not have to picture the scene.
- Read and reread and replace phrases with words. The preceding sentence originally was: “Read it and reread it again and again, even out loud, and listen for ways to minimize the content.”
- Sleep on it, reread it, slash and burn once more.
Pictures are worth a thousand words. A cute shot of the whole family, or just you (if you are single), or just the grandkids or you and your spouse on a hike, in front of the tree, in a sidewalk cafe in France….
My Christmas letters have morphed from two-pagers crammed with too many details when I began decades ago to picture postcards with bullet-point factoids on the back. One or two photos can convey a lot of information and lessen the need for all those words.
Keep Collages Minimal: consider your reader/viewer. Put no more than four photos on a postcard sized collage. I broke this rule, when I was younger and could still see.
What do you think?
Do you send a Christmas letter or photo card? Do you like getting them?
Has Facebook removed the need?
Have I missed some salient points you would like to include? Your turn…