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A Writer's Guide to Christmas Letters

Originally published December 1997


            If you're like most people you'll soon be receiving your annual Christmas letters from friends and relatives, near and far.  And if you're like me, you'll be reading those missives (a word rarely used outside of Christmas letters) and wondering why everyone else's lives are more exciting than yours.

            Here's the secret: they aren't.  It's all in the presentation.  So as a holiday service to my readers, I'd like to offer a few pointers for crafting your very own family Christmas letter.

            Begin by setting the tone, which should be congenial, condescending, and cloyingly clever.  Try this:

            "HI HO, campers!  Where DOES the time go?  It's been a whole year since our last Christmas missive!  Are we all getting older, or does it just seem like it?  Seems like you are, anyway!  HA HA!  Just kidding!  Well we've had yet another fantastamagnifico year, so strap yourself in and HOLD ON TO YOUR HAT!"

            Test yourself - did you spot all the tricks?  Use lots of capital letters, a minimum of two cliches per paragraph, never end a sentence with a period unless absolutely necessary, and don't be afraid to make up your own words.  Score one point for each technique.

            Moving to the body of your letter, remember that the adults of the family should sound annoyingly successful.  For example:

            "Can you believe it?  Bradley got ANOTHER promotion!  One more and he gets the key to the executive washroom!  Two more and they'll give him the key to get out!  And what about that Marta?  She just self-published her THIRD gardening book, 'Nearer My Sod To Thee!'  Hold the phone - is that the Pulitzer Prize committee calling?"  Always refer to everyone in the third person; it makes the reader wonder who did the writing.

            Your kids, of course, are brighter than those of anyone reading the letter, but make sure to point it out in case they haven't noticed:

            "Little Biff isn't our baby anymore, just ask him!  He's a BIG BOY now that he's 3!  And isn't he the junior science whiz, even deftly dissecting the cat after it died?  Well, we think it was after!  Anyway, big sister Missy is taking ANOTHER instrument, the violin!  Her probation officer says he's never seen such a collection!  Bigger bro' Jerry has a new Internet pen-pal out in Cud Drippings, Wyoming!  And wouldn't you know it, Jer's going back to visit his new cyber-buddy for the world renowned 'WYOMING MOSQUITO FESTIVAL!'  Something to tell his grandkids about for sure!"

            It's also a good idea to throw around the names of people no one will recognize.  That way everyone will know how much fun you had with everyone else:

            "Summer vacation was at the beach with Ted and Peg, and we even got to help Peg surprise the hub-meister for his 35th birthday!  (NOTE: always pick someone younger than most of your readers.)  Man, is he OLD!  Went skiing with the Alysons last winter - hope Fred is out of traction in time for this year's trip!"

            Alas, into every year some rain must fall, so a good Christmas letter should include at least one obituary:

            "Alas, into every year some rain must fall.  (Periods are OK for eulogies, but don't get carried away.)  Sadly, Uncle Zeb shuffled off his mortal coil at the age of 97 in a drive-by shooting.  Who'd of thunk Aunt Lou would fire back, much less be such a sharpshooter?  Auntie, get your gun!"

            And finally, there's the close.  Be warm, be sincere, be smarmy, and leave them coming back for more:

            "WELL, SPORTSFANS, that was the year that was!  We laughed, we cried, we lived, we died!  It was better than 'Cats!'  If we left out anything or anyone important, we're sorry!  Do something INTERESTING next year and we'll squeeze you in!  HA HA!  Just kidding!"

            That wasn't so hard, was it?  Now limber up those fingers, make yourself comfortable, and START TYPING!  You’re not getting ANY YOUNGER!

            Sorry.  It's hard to turn that stuff off.  But from me and mine, we wish you a blessed Christmas and all the best of the season.







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© 2005 Brent Morrison