Family Christmas letters, those mass-mailed updates that try to pack a whole year of activity into one page of text, have become as much a part of the Christmas season as Rudolph's shiny red nose and Black Friday shopping. If you need help getting started, just put on some Christmas music, pull up your computer chair, and follow the instructions below.
- Be yourself. Most people learned to write in school, which means they learned to write essays and book reports. For Christmas letters, try to throw out everything you've ever learned about formal writing and just be yourself.
- Avoid extraneous modifiers. When talking to your friends and family, you probably don't usually say things like, "My wonderful husband" or "my loving daughter", yet these types of phrases often sneak into Christmas letters. Let's be honest: that's a bit much. Just use your family members' names - that keeps the letter personal and helps keep the reader interested.
- Keep your audience in mind. Do you live overseas or out of state and only see the people on your Christmas mailing list once a year? Or do you live in the same city and see them every day? Whether you're near or far, in close contact or just a casual relationship, will determine how much detail you can include in your annual update.
- Don't exaggerate or brag. The biggest complaint about mass-mailed Christmas letters is that people exaggerate and brag too much. By simply stating things in your own natural voice (see number 1 above) and avoiding language you wouldn't use in everyday conversation (see number 2 above), you'll also avoid the pitfalls of bragging and exaggerating. If something wonderful happened to you or someone in your family, by all means mention it, but try to let the event speak for itself. No one enjoys watching someone else gloat.
- Get personal. Don't forget to sign your letters by hand and add a quick personal note at the bottom of each one. It will remind your readers that they're important to you.
- Read it out loud. After you've finished writing, read your letter out loud or have someone else read it to you. Does it sound like something you'd actually say in real life? Will your readers be able to "hear" your voice as they read? If so, you've succeeded.
- Think outside the box. If you've read all the tips above and are still worried, or think that writing a standard letter is too mundane, get creative. Turn your letter into a multiple choice quiz, create a newsletter, or write it like a memo from one of Santa's elves detailing why your family and kids should be on the Nice list (or perhaps the Naughty list!).
- Have fun! There is no right or wrong way to write a Christmas letter, so relax. Have fun. They don't give a Pulitzer Prize for Christmas letters, so just be yourself and you'll do great.