Letter-Writing: Holiday Letters

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Getting mail is a ton of fun, but in an increasingly digital world, writing it can sometimes be hard. This blog post series about Letter Writing aims to make it easier.

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photo credit: Lauren Manning
Holiday letters were a family institution growing up. We'd all take part- in the licking of envelopes if nothing less. A special box had place of honor on the table for keeping the cards and letters received, and really pretty cards might even become decorations later on. As the years go on, the number of letters in that box have dwindled. Some find holiday letters too time consuming, or too boring, or perhaps even think that Facebook and like are keeping us in touch well enough without the help of letters. I beg to differ.

Holiday Letters (or Family Letters, might also be a good name) tell the story of your years; they can help keep connections with family and friends strong, which is important as our society is more mobile and families more spread out than ever! They allow the writers of the letters (and their families) moments to recollect over the time that has passed- what lessons were learned, what challenges tackled, what laughter was shared? They also give the letter recipients insight into loved ones' lives and let's them know they are remembered and loved in turn.

Holiday letters can be tricky to write though! There are several approaches you can take to writing them, but each style does hold several things in common. Here are some general Dos and Don'ts of Holiday letter writing:

Don't stress about holiday letters! While traditionally, most families write holiday letters for the Christmas/Hanukkah season, that time can be very busy and stressful. But that doesn't mean you have to sacrifice these yearly communications. I have a friend who instead sends out a holiday letter around Valentines. Make when and to whom you send these letters to work for you. 
Do write about everyone in your household. Also make sure that each person (even children!) have a say over what is shared about them. You might think Jane's grades are worth sharing; she might prefer to tell about her scoring a goal in a soccer game. This also means each person is only sharing what they are comfortable with, so no accidental faux paus happen (How awkward would it be to mention Steve's great girlfriend when the couple may have just broken up?!) 
Don't be boastful. To be clear, this is especially important when talking about your children and your travels. Share the highlights (Bobby graduated from the University!), but you can skip some of the details (Bobby graduated with honors in X,Y, and Z). Say it humbly. 
letters, writing letters, holiday letters, christmas letters, how to write letters,
Photos by Lauren Manning
Do share details. This might seem like a contradiction to what I've just shared above, but it's not really. Keep in mind that those reading your letters might be more distant connections who only hear from you from time to time. Share the details that will keep clear who everyone is, and what they are doing (For example, "Johnny has been cheering for the Cowboys all season!" might not be as clear as "Our son Johnny graduated high school and this fall moved to Laramie to attend the University of Wyoming.")
Do keep an upbeat attitude, especially when starting this letter, and remember even small things can change the tone of a letter ("It is a joy as I sit down to write to you all, to be able to reflect on this past year" vs. " Wow! The year has flown by, it is just too busy!") 
Don't make your letter a medical report. Sometimes people do get sick, and sometimes there are deaths in the family. Definitely share these events if they are big parts of your year. However, keep it general. We don't need to hear how each test came back. Such details don't mean much to those unfamiliar with the terminology, they generally aren't very cheering to hear, and it is not all that respectful of the ill or deceased person's privacy. Even in these times, focus on what positive there is- the person's strength and the support you and your family received. 
Do try to at least sign your name, even if the rest of the letter isn't handwritten. Handwritten letters do lend a sense of personalization, but if you can't write all your letters, don't sweat it! People know holiday letters usually are sent to many people. 
Don't worry if you are focussing more on your family's news than inquiries about the reader. A holiday letter is a little like a newsletter- you are not generally expecting a reply; the goal is instead to inform. 
Three common approaches to letter writing are just sharing highlights, sharing lessons learned, and sharing humorous moments. When I say Holiday letters are like news letters, it really is true! You could share just a few highlights of each family member's year. A twist to this many people employ is to share highlights by sharing what lessons they learned from them (Judy joined a soccer team. Though she played well, we were even prouder of the perseverance it taught her and the hard work she put into the sport). This is also a good way to keep things humble and positive! Others might feel that an entire year is too much to focus on, and will instead share about one or two humorous incidents. This could be a humorous story from each member of the family or just one story with all contributing details and reactions. These can be a great fun to read and to write, but be careful to make sure everyone is comfortable with the details shared. No one likes being embarrassed!

So, Good Luck and Happy Holidays!

Love Noel Joy, letters, writing letters, holiday letters, christmas letters, how to write letters,
Photo by Lauren Manning
For more tips on writing holiday letters, take a peek at these articles:


  1. I can't believe it's almost Christmas.
    A few days ago it was burning hot here in Greece.

    Style Nirvana

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  2. Oh, I absolutely love to send mail! Only my sister lives in the same city, so I send lots and lots of letters, cards, etc. It's definitely much enjoyable to receive mail than emails! Great post, dear :)

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    1. Oh, how fun for you and your mailbox then! I love that you send mail to family.

  3. I love sending Christmas cards! I wish more people sent them.

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  4. Great tips!

    Mrs. Lopez of lovinglifeinpink.blogspot.com

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  5. Are you writing one?
    My holiday letters do stress me out (even though the organization for the mass production makes me happy)- maybe just because this year and last year were transition times in December. The uncertainty makes my writing wobbly.

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    1. I was but now... I don't know. Might take my own advice and choose a different holiday or time of year to send one, like Valentine's. Things have just been very busy between my Gram's last illness and funeral and then the start of my job.

      If December seems like a stressful time for you, I'd say to try writing one at a different time of the year. Hope you write one too. From all your prayer letters, I can tell you'd write a good one :)


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