Let’s face it: most family newsletters are a wee bit tiresome. Okay, they're boring. And some can be downright smug and self-absorbed. Most letters--but never, we imagine, our own.
A holiday newsletter doesn’t have to be silly or tedious. One that’s brief, thoughtfully composed, and marked by a sense of humor can be a charming way of staying in touch with distant friends.
There are no Official Rules for writing holiday letters--thank goodness. The secret to composing a good letter is to write from the head as well as the heart and to keep your readers in mind. Here are a few suggestions to help you do just that.
1. Consider Your Readers
As you prepare to compose the letter, think about some of the people who will be reading it. If they were sitting here now at your kitchen table, what would you be talking about with Aunt Vera, your school buddy Lane, and your old neighbors in Seattle? Talk about some of those things in your letter.
2. Involve the Family
Invite the other members of your family to contribute, and don’t be too quick to censor or redirect their ideas. Sure, you may be dying to tell the world that your daughter made the honor roll, but if she's more interested in recalling that last-minute goal she scored in a soccer game, let her tell it—and let her use her own words.
3. Enjoy Yourself
If the prospect of writing a holiday letter makes you groan, forget it. A letter that starts out as a duty is likely to be read as a chore. Have some fun writing the letter.
4. Don't Use a Template
If a family newsletter is worth writing at all, it should sound like you and your family. Don’t fill in any blanks or imitate any models.
5. Avoid Boasting
Your newsletter really shouldn’t sound like an application for the World's Greatest Family Award. Don’t brag about your stock options, your kids’ straight A’s, or your flashy new company car. Be real. Mention setbacks as well as achievements. Above all else, don’t be afraid to poke fun at yourself.
6. Read It Aloud
As you prepare to revise and edit your letter, listen to make sure that the language is clear and direct. The letter should sound as if you’re speaking with good friends, not addressing a shareholders meeting.
7. Don't Embarrass Anybody
Encourage everyone in the family to read the letter before you make copies. You might have heard wedding bells when you met Junior’s new girlfriend on Thanksgiving, but those bells may have been false alarms. What Junior may not yet have told you is that the perfect couple broke up last weekend.
There’s no need to amuse your friends with unintentional writing errors. Misspelling "bowl" as "bowel," for instance, is funny only if somebody else has made the mistake. So review your letter for standard grammar and correct spelling.
9. Keep It Short
Nobody, they say, ever criticized a speech because it ran too short. The same is true of the holiday newsletter. Stick to one page, or even a bit less. Leave space for a brief handwritten note and a personal signature. If you’re including the letter as an e-mail attachment, send each e-mail individually. Real friends don’t spam their friends.
10. Be Selective
Send the letter only to acquaintances who might really care about what you and your family have been up to this past year. Your old roommate in Australia and a recently retired co-worker? Fine. But the mail carrier and your son’s second-grade teacher? Go with a card (or, better yet, a gift card) instead.