tutorial tuesday: christmas letters


Jes is back (she taught us why we should do this and how we can do this) with great tips for you as you write your Christmas letter this year. I usually get Jessie to write mine for me, but I’m feeling pretty confident after reading through this tutorial that this year I can do it.

All. By. Myself.

And now you can too! Thanks Jes!


ssp_christmascard[image via Sycamore Street Press]

i’m a little terrified that the tradition of the Christmas letter will disappear with blogging, facebooking, emailing and the like. but i love the Christmas letter. absolutely love it. some of my favorite holiday memories are getting home from school, slogging up the street, making a mug of hot chocolate and sitting down with my mom to look through all the Christmas letters that came that day. i loved the long ones and the short ones. i poured over the family pictures. (i guess it’s no secret that i’ve always been obsessed with people and their stories.) the Christmas letters that piled up in the basket in front of our fireplace cracked the world between me and my parents. i loved hearing about their friends from graduate school. or elementary school. or their first job. or first neighbor near their first house. as i paged through Christmas letters, i was running my fingers through the sediment of their lives–all their friendships and adventures. this is a tradition i hope to keep alive. and that i hope you will keep alive. don’t be afraid of the Christmas letter, imagine it as a gentle, quiet phone call from you to all the friends you’ve ever loved. and whether you blog like crazy or not, there is something tender and irreplaceable about a real piece of thoughtful mail in the box at Christmas time.

so. here are a few tips for writing a Christmas letter. (but, remember, any Christmas letter you write will be appreciated and hung above doorways and fireplaces by grandmothers and young women leaders and teachers and aunts all over the world.)

1. be yourself
writing is just like talking, only quieter. pretend you’re chatting on the phone. or emailing. or whatever you’re comfortable imagining. use your voice. use the words you would use. (don’t get fancy with the thesaurus.) no one needs you to sound like a rhodes scholar. we just need you to sound like you.

2. include a brief update on each family member
it’s tempting to only write about the people in your family who have done “interesting” things. but people want to know that you’re into making your own stained glass in your garage just as much as they want to know that timmy is on honor roll and is quarterback on the football team.

3. be concise
we’ve all seen the tiny type front-and-back letters in size 8. i think the human race has an understanding that it’s impossible to write a Christmas letter including everything that happened in the previous year. don’t try it. we want to read something that gives us a sense of who you are, not every single thing you’ve done.

4. don’t brag

5. format wisely
there’s nothing more frustrating than an impossible to read curly-cue font or a teeny weeny font size or green type on magenta paper. pick a readable font. pick a normal font size. (at least size 12.) don’t be afraid of white space. give your reader visual cues (like white space between each family member). be kind. if you can’t read it, i can’t either.

6. include a family photo
i like photos. i imagine you do too. make sure that you’ve labeled your photo in some way or explained your family specifically in the letter so that it’s simple to know who is who.

feel like you’ve got the tips above covered? try your hand at advanced Christmas letter writing. try picking a theme and using that theme to write a line or three about each member of your family. for example, write about everyone’s favorite book or favorite memory from the year. write about everyone’s favorite movie of the year or most significant piece of schoolwork. writing about the same types of things for each person gives your letter a feeling of cohesion. and it allows you to be creative without being corny.

need an example? here’s a Christmas letter i wrote a few years ago. (names have been changed to protect the innocent.)

We’re sitting on the edge of another year’s end and it went too fast. Simply too fast. Let’s slow it down and delight in the gift that it was.

Charles is still cutting his way through the academic underbrush to his Ph.D. in Arabic literature. Harriot runs a book group, helps with the neighbor’s triplets, and is becoming acquainted with the local flora and fauna. After another sweltering summer teaching Arabic at Middlebury College, they’re happy to be back in Michigan enjoying long bike rides along some of those great lakes.

Susan wrote a book, got pregnant (due Dec. 26th), and graduated with her master’s in English. Kevin single-handedly packed and moved the pair to a two-bedroom apartment and started his second year of dental school. It sounds hectic, and it might have been … but, for the most part, Susan is on the couch, her feet propped up, leaning over to Kev saying, “Look! I think I’m getting vericose veins.” With Kevin saying, “Veins are blue, Sue. They just are.”

Ginger and Bronco took this past year to be the first of the children to foray into adulthood.  Bronco managed to secure a job in ****** come January and they just bought a house. It’s an adorable little place to move their burgeoning family—Owen made the pair three earlier this March.  Take a peak at them in their living room, with Owen on the floor finding fuzzies and bits of leaves to stick in his mouth, while Ginger cooks tasty dinners and Bronco avoids his homework by reading the latest on BYU football.

Frank lives in Mexico and eats rice and beans and adobo. While our vision of Frank is limited by imagination, we see him in a fast-paced walk through the dust of South America, sometimes chased by rabid dogs and sometimes chased by the feeling that he’s running out of time to do everything he wishes he could.

Michael and Darleen marked their 30th anniversary with a trip to Alaska, and in the midst of plans for uprooting, downsizing, and retiring, Dad got called as bishop. Mom is balancing her even emptier nest admirably. And thankfully, some things never change. She still talks to the flowers in her garden and grows zinnias nearly four feet tall. While Dad is busier than ever, he pulls on his jean cut-offs every evening and hops on his mountain bike for a ride through the South Valley.

Gary Saul Morson wrote, “What if important events are not the great ones, but the infinitely numerous and apparently inconsequential ordinary ones?” And they are, aren’t they? In the midst of chaos, it is the little things that hold families together, that make the world beautiful. May your coming year be full of such priceless and seemingly inconsequential pieces. May you find the hand of God in those infinitely numerous ordinary moments.

happy writing to all of you. remember the spirit of season, the joy of Christ’s birth, and the miracle of a chance you have to reconnect with the people who mean the most to you. put the Christmas letter back on your to-do list and remember to send me a copy.

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