5 Tips for Writing the Perfect Christmas Letter


Every year we get between 10 and 20 Christmas letters. I read every single one, and keep them in a basket in the dining room so visitors and family members can easily scoop them up. I confess, a few of theses letters are terrible and the brunt of jokes and snickers. These are usually the letters that are braggadocios with self aggrandizing references to brilliant children, extravagant purchases, deserving job promotions, and luxurious vacations.

Sometimes I'm tempted to send responses to these letters saying, "Merry Christmas from the ordinary old Burgoynes who have pretty nice kids who haven't won any astounding awards, and I'm still at the bottom of the food chain in the same old government job and we're upside down on our mortgage since the crash so we probably will never move into a bigger house, and when we vacation we mostly camp .... AND we love each other to pieces and are happy happy happy"   .... but I digress.

Since 2004 I have sent out a Christmas letter tucked inside a custom designed card. My letters have become so popular that friends and relatives have actually written back. Each year I get three or four letters answering my Christmas letter. I also get thank-you emails and thank you notes from grateful recipients. Last year I dropped some people from the list and one of them wrote to me and asked to be put back on.  I believe my annual Christmas letter initiative works well because I write them with this thought in mind ..."What would I say to my friends and family if this were the last Christmas for me - or them? What if this Christmas message was my final communication. What would I say?"

This moves me to cut out all the meaningless drivel about possessions and accomplishments, write from the heart about how much each one of them means to us.  It's usually mushy, but I think the success of our Christmas letter comes from it raw honesty.

Of course, I'm actually bragging here about writing a great Christmas letter which is sort of hypocritical. I'm sure some of my family members will read this post and be aghast that I can brag when I'm so long winded.... writing a two-page, single spaced letter - and it's SO mushy (a family keeps you from getting a big head). But I've not heard from them asking to be taken off the list. 

Dan and I have large families and scores of friends we've made over the years. To some of our contacts, the Christmas card and letter is our only communication. We send out over 250 Christmas cards. I tuck my Christmas letter inside the cards of close friends and family. People have actually figured this out ... that not everybody gets a letter. We've had friends say, "Please, keep us on the A list" and others ask how they get on the "Letter List." These comments mean the world to me. To know that my message makes a difference.  What could be a more important gift?

Many have asked how I do it ... "How do you think of what to write?" ... "How do you make it interesting?"

At the risk of appearing braggadocios myself, I am daring in this post to offer 5 tips for writing a Christmas letter that will opened with great anticipation, eagerly read, appreciated and shared.

Tip 1: Keep News on Family Members to One Paragraph
This may sound odd, since the contents of most Christmas letters is 90% news of the family ... son John got into Yale this year, Cindy won the regional skating championship, Sarah is still a soccer star, grandson Bob won a scholarship, our son Billy still doesnt' talk to us and we don't know where he is - do you?, husband Jack got a new job.....Friends and family want to know what your kids are up to, where they're living, how they're doing.. but one paragraph on the whole family news is enough. ADDED NOTE: My grown children don't like when I go on and on about them in a letter. It makes them uneasy. Simple news, to the point, is enough.

Tip 2: Resist All Temptation to Brag or Appear Like You're Bragging
It's just not okay to brag on paper. Remember braggarts are bores, and you do not have the benefit of "tone of voice" or "facial expression" when writing. So don't say "We just can't believe how smart she is ... straight A's for the fifth year in a row!" Talk more about how much you love her, support her, and are glad she's eager to learn. Avoid casually mentioning how expensive your new car is or how luxurious that vacation you took was. Bragging sours the letter and taints the intention of sending love and good will.

Tip 3: Pick a Few Highlight of the Year - Then Elaborate on How You Feel or Felt About Those Events.
If your spouse got a new job, talk about it ... how does it make him or her feel? What was the most outstanding moment in your family vacation?  What was the most riveting memory of your child's wedding? What was going on in your heart when Jimmy went to the first day of kindergarten? Who have you lost this year? What comforting words can you say about the loss - or what were the most comforting words someone said to you? Did you move this year? Did you feel lonely? Make new friends?

Tip 4: Be "You" Focused Instead of "Me" Focused
Think about who you are writing to. Think about the faces of the loved ones who will read your Christmas letter. What can you say that will bring smiles to those faces? What will be interesting the those reading your letter? When will you welcome visits? Mention things in your letter that you'd want to hear from your closest friends.

Tip 5: Mention Your Sincerest Christmas Wish at the End
Christmas is a time when we remember everyone we ever loved. One recent Christmas, I was decorating my tree and becoming sentimental about the ornaments as I placed them. My ornaments could tell the story of my life. As I mentally went through my life marked by shiny baubles, I thought to myself, "What if this was my last Christmas? What would I want to tell everyone I love?" I jotted down a few thoughts and incorporated them into the sappy ending of my Christmas letter that year. I've repeated the process each subsequent year, and I believe this is the ultimate gift of the Christmas letter... my personal and sincere message of love to each loved one... the kind of thing you never think to say face to face.  Christmas is the perfect time to put these thoughts into words before it's too late, and the message of love is left unsaid.

If you're interested in reading some of my past Christmas letters, these are on line at my website.

Christmas Letter 2013
Christmas Letter 2012
Christmas Letter 2011
Christmas Letter 2010
Christmas Letter 2009
Christmas Letter 2008
Christmas Letter 2007
Christmas Letter 2006


Merry Christmas everybody. 

Mindie

BONUS TIPS

Don't waste the money on that special Christmas stationary.  I used to do this.  It costs more money and it's a nightmare to get the layout right.  I used colored paper in the printer - a pastel green usually because it's easy on the eyes.  

Customized Cards - If you want to make your own card from one of your own photographs to match the message of your letter, consider a web service that will allow you to upload your own image and type in your own message.  Shutterfly and Vista Print are both affordable.  I'd also check with your local printer and see if he or she can match the price.

 

Other Christmas Posts:  
Five Christmas Traditions to Enrich Your Holidays 
Happy Christmas, Hanukkah and Festivus for the Rest of Us
The Santa Diaries - A Private Look at Christmas in St. Michaels
An Eastern Shore Solstice - Darkness is Ebbing
When People Hurt at Christmas





30 comments:

  1. Mindie, this post was so moving--& your Christmas letter equally so. Thanks for taking the time to share. Your comment that we all have the same amount of time in each day was especially poignant ... really makes us think. Your depth truly shows in your writing!

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  2. Beautifully written Mindie. Makes me wish I was on your list. There is nothing like a heartfelt caring card and letter. What a delight.

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  3. Karen,
    Send me your address ... I'll send you a card and letter. New friends are good, right?

    Thanks so much for the kind comment.

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  4. This is such a lovely tradition. What a great way to catch up with friends and relatives!

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  5. Cathy Bassett12:29 PM

    We do get one Christmas letter that has become the laugh of the season. It's from a dear friend who writes in the voice of her child. Now, I love kids as much as anyone else. And her kids are cute, no doubt. But, in a Christmas letter, I don't really want to hear about how you discovered your toes the other day. Or how the leaves outside change color. So I guess I'd add one more point: write in your own voice. Not your kids, your dog or your parakeet.

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  6. I saw this post on Twitter and just had to read it. I'm glad I did. This year, I'm toying around with writing our first family Christmas letter... and quite frankly it seems like a daunting task. But your post inspired me to move forward and DO IT! Thank you!

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  7. Beth McElhone1:52 PM

    Nice job, Mindie...now how do I get on your mailing list...??? 251 cards this year???? :0)
    I'll send you mine if you send me yours!! :0)

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  8. Ahhhh Beth.... My 2010 card and letter must not have been very memorable. I DID send you one. You are on the list. :)

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  9. Erin, so glad you took the time to comment. I'd love to get an email copy of your letter. Think about sending me one. My email address is in the Profile section of my blog.

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  10. Anonymous3:00 PM

    Thank you for your kind sharing spirit. I was absolutely stumped about how to write to all the people I love and miss. Your article has been an inspiration. Merry Christmas to you and yours.

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    1. So glad it helped. Hope you write a Christmas letter. It's worth it, even if the letter is short.

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  11. Thanks for taking the time to share these tips! I read a few of the sample letters and they really are amazing Christmas letters. I love how your honesty and love for your family jumps out of the page! I'm not a naturally good writer but I do love to tell the people I love those sentiments through words sometimes. Thanks for this post. Oh, and I love the name of your blog, haha!!

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    1. Thanks, Jenny. I think the honesty part is what makes a good Christmas letter. Speak from the heart. The name of the blog stems from what my mother used to say .... only when she said it (to me) it was "Who cares what YOU think?" Bless her. She was an inspiration.

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  12. Mindie, what inspirational words for Christmas-letter-writers, like me. I read your samples and felt like you were my long-lost BFF! I went right out and deleted the letter I had begun and started a new one, with all of your words of wisdom in mind. Thank you for the kick-start. I'll be checking back to your blog frequently.

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    1. Maybe we are long lost BFFs, Linda. I'd love to get a copy of your letter. Consider emailing me one. I love to see these letters. When honestly written, they are so inspiring.

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  13. Anonymous12:05 PM

    Mindie, thank you for the wonderful ideas but I was very disappointed when you said I had to be honest. For example, when I write that my son is playing on a basketball team, do I have to say that it's in the Montana penal league? I'd love to tell friends that I taught my wife to fly fish but heck, I don't know how to fly fish myself.. Just kidding on those but I couldn't resist.
    Once again, thank you and have a very Merry Christmas.

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    1. Glad you stopped and read through the post. With a sense of humor like yours, you could write a fabulous Christmas letter. Merry Christmas to you and yours.

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  14. Sandi1:06 PM

    I googled "best Christmas letter examples" and your Christmas letters since 2006 were displayed. You are a talented writer and your letters are amazing. I shamelessly copied your style and wrote my thoughts instead of our accomplishments. It's the best letter I have ever written. Thank you for sharing!!

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    1. Sandi, glad you stopped by. Copy away. The point of the post was to help people. If my letters help you write your own, I'm proud to be a part of the process. Merry Christmas!

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  15. Anonymous2:42 PM

    Do you have any tips for sending a card/letter to close friends and relatives...those that already know what's been going on in your life? Should I skip the letter and just send a card and pic?

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    1. Lots of people who get my cards are close friends and family. Steps 3, 4, and 5 address this. Rather than telling everyone what's going on in your life, pick one thing and talk about how it made you feel. Keep the letter focused on your reader, not yourself. Resist the urge to recap your year and think about what you'd like to say to all of your friends if this were your last Christmas. The letter, doesn't have to be long. It just has to be heartfelt and honest.

      Best wishes on your writing and I thank you for taking the time to stop by my blog.

      Merry Christmas.

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  16. Anonymous11:35 PM

    I would have to add the following to your Do NOT write about list:
    Health issues. A short bit is one thing, but lengthy descriptions of doctors' visits, warts, corns, hemmoroids and the like. Nobody wants to hear it. Save it for your doctor who gets paid to listen.

    I like letters that are honest. If we can't be honest with friends and family--then why bother writing. Every family has ups and downs. It's ok to share a little.

    I strongly agree with the "braggish" letters. I can't stand them. 3 pages of ALL your adventures is just bragging. A simple mention of a trip and we enjoyed catching fish with the grandkids while camping is fine.

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    1. I hadn't thought about that ... but so true. The health issue thing can get out of hand. Isn't it amazing how energized some people get when talking about their latest visits to the doctor? Thanks for stopping by.

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    2. Anonymous8:06 PM

      Lol that is s true i havent thought of thst befpre lol

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  17. I received a Christmas newsletter from a close relative, but there was no Christmas card...just the letter! She has usually included the letter with the card in the past. Is this a new trend?

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    1. I got several "just letters" this year too. I think it is a trend. Maybe people thing Christmas cards are too expensive - or they just don't want to put in the time. Anyway, I love the cards - and the letters. All is good.

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  18. Katharina5:52 AM

    Thank you so much for your tips. I am from Germany and I would like to send some Christmas cards to my friends in CT. You made my day!

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  19. Anonymous11:07 AM

    Thank you for your delightful sample letters and warm advice. Your post has convinced me not to attempt to write one myself, for which I am most grateful! I have absolutely nothing positive to write about my family or myself, and no wishes to send to the recipients of the letter. There is therefore nothing on which to waste the time! I feel such relief not to have to correspond! Thank you!

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  20. I don't even know you and you made me tear up just with the "how-to" information you posted!

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    1. Awww Molly. So sweet. I hope you got something out of the post that will help you. Thanks for taking the time to read it and comment.

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