Oh, the holiday newsletter! We love it, we hate it, it’s like Facebook on steroids. An entire year boiled down to a few paragraphs and studded with superlatives. And clichés. And throw-away sentences that simply confirm the status quo. And you know that you’re better than that. That this year—this year—you’ll take the time to sit down amidst the increasing holiday madness and craft a thoughtful, meaningful letter that doesn’t make friends and acquaintances want to rip out their hair. And believe us, we want you to.
So, here are a few tips we’ve developed over the years for writing a great holiday letter.
1. One page. Just one. And no more than a handful of photos, please. We want photos large enough that we can see you and your family and brief paragraphs that we don’t get lost in.
2. Consider your audience: family and far-flung friends are probably uninterested in the day-to-day elements of your work (they may not even remember what you do). Professional acquaintances may be bowled over—and not in a good way—by familial anecdotes and intimacies.
3. Don’t brag. Don’t brag. Don’t brag. It should be simple, but somehow it never is. Just remember: the holiday newsletter is not your family’s resume. We know you’re awfully proud of that new boat, setting a personal record at the marathon, and the kids’ accomplishments, but a little humor or even self-deprecation can go a long way!
4. Don’t brag, part II: Tell us a story. Pick 3-5 main events of the year, and find the intriguing element—not necessarily the achievement—of each. Tell us about the monster fish that got away, how you met up with old friends and explored the city after the marathon, or how the four-year-old soccer team looks like nothing more than a scramble of puppies piling on top of the ball.
5. Don’t brag, part III: Keep it vague. No one really wants to know that stellar SAT score; just tell us that Jacob Jr. has been accepted at Berkeley or Michigan State and let it go. In the same vein: mention the promotion but avoid particulars about the raise.
6. Keep it light. Yes, we know that bad things happen and we want to sympathize and support you. But an entire newsletter devoted to sad, bad news is a little too Debbie Downer for the cheery holiday season. Likewise, avoid particulars that might upset the faint of heart: let us know that the surgery went well, definitely, but leave out the specifics of a difficult rehab.
7. Edit and proofread. Yeah, we know. It’s cliché advice, but oh-so-important. Our personal go-to for this is reading the letter aloud (or, better yet, having a friend or family member read it aloud). Awkward sentences and difficult punch-lines will instantly stand out, as will too-formal phrasing. You should still sound like you, after all. Also, don’t let AutoCorrect make its own inadvertent punch-lines: read it again after spell check!
Finally, handwrite the salutation and a brief, personal message at the bottom: wish the recipients luck on upcoming travels with a teething child, ask after the new house or hobby, check in on how the thesis is going and the broken leg is mending. Remind them of how your relationship matters enough to exchange these holiday missives, and wish them the very best of holiday seasons.