Tips for Writing a Sparkling Holiday Letter—2020-Style

With social distancing still going strong, stay connected and spread some cheer with personalized letters or Christmas cards.

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Posted in , Nov 25, 2020

Lisa Bogart's drawing of Christmas lights and letters

People have a love-hate relationship with Christmas letters. I’m a lifelong letter writer, and even I struggle to hit the right note—newsy, fun, filled with holiday spirit but not bragging or full of details that no one cares about.

This year, the struggle is off the charts. Who has good news to share at the end of one of the hardest years of our lives? I lost an uncle, friends were diagnosed with Covid, my son moved away, and my husband and I holed up in our house for months. For a social person like me, whose favorite part of the day is time spent with friends and loved ones, life felt on hold.

No Christmas letter? Quite the opposite! This year, I need to write a Christmas letter. I encourage you to write one too. Christmas letters are a gift of hope. And what could the world use more of now than the hope of Christmas?

I sent my first Christmas letter in my early twenties and, with a few exceptions, have sent one every year since. Even if you’ve never sent a holiday letter in your life, and even if you think you have no artistic talent, trust me, you can do this. Let’s make this year’s Christmas letter a highlight of the season. Here’s how:

1. Let it all hang out.
No vacation? No graduation? Day after day spent at home? What news does anyone have to share this year? Plenty! Okay, so you didn’t take that long-awaited trip to Greece. That doesn’t mean 2020 wasn’t full of accomplishments.

 

Write about the fabulous loaves of bread you baked. The harvest from your garden. The knitting project you started. Your new daily yoga practice. How about the 100 Sudokus you completed? Or how you managed to juggle working from home and wrangling kids? Now is the time to share and laugh at your epic fails. You’ve had adventures just getting your groceries!

 

2. Embrace the strangeness.
With travel and big family gatherings hard to pull off, this Christmas will be different. Why not write about some of the creative ways you plan to celebrate the holiday?

Maybe you’ll be having a meal with loved ones via Zoom. Or you’ll spend less time shopping in stores and more time at home. That means more time to put up lights, decorate the house or give gifts to charity. Let your kids and grandkids add what they’re looking forward to. Help others see the joy in new traditions.

3. No photo? No problem!
The classic Christmas letter photo is a glamorous travel shot or a studio portrait. Not this year. It doesn’t matter. Shots from home feel more authentic anyway. Or have your kids or grandkids draw a family portrait. If you just can’t find an image you like, don’t worry about it. The point of a Christmas letter is making connections with others. You don’t need a polished photo to do that.

4. Personalize the details.
Divide news into two categories: things you want to share with everyone and details that matter to only a few. Print a form letter with the news for everyone. Then add a few handwritten personal details for each recipient. Just two or three sentences shows your loved ones that you were thinking of them.

5. Make it festive.
Nothing adds a personal touch, even on a form letter, like some hand-drawn art. Add a few flourishes before you photocopy. You don’t have to be a professional artist to make the page look fun and seasonal.

One easy trick is to draw a border of red candy cane stripes. Or surround your words with snowflakes. Anyone can draw a snowflake. Make a cross. Next, put an X on top of it. Ta-da, you now have a snowflake! Sprinkle some of them around the edges of your letter, add a few dots and you’ve got yourself a snowstorm. Get a little fancier by finding some clip art online—a snowman, a Christmas tree, a bell, a stocking, a star. Print out the image, hold it up to a window, put a piece of paper on top and trace. Voilà, an artist is born!

Still stuck for ideas? Ask a child. Kids know how to make any blank sheet of paper fun.

6. Pay attention to the packaging.
Let the celebration begin even before your recipients open their letter. Cover the entire front of the envelope with a colorful mailing address. (Remember to add your return address on the back.) Write each line in a different hue. The simple act of switching pens adds some hard-to-resist flair.

And don’t forget the simple joy that holiday stamps can bring. Each year, the post office offers customers an array of seasonal stamps to choose from. Or go vintage and order some old-fashioned stamps on Etsy. (Just make sure they aren't canceled or used.)

7. Pace yourself.
You don’t have to go to the post office with all your letters at once. Aim to send out a couple of them each day.

I start my letter writing on Black Friday. It’s a much better way to kick off the holiday season than chasing markdowns. It takes me all month and then some to get through my list, one or two letters at a time.

Some folks don’t get my holiday greetings until New Year’s, and that’s okay. I’d rather send a handmade letter filled with love and cheer that arrives a few days late than a mass-produced point-and-click Christmas card on time.

Whether you follow some, all or none of my advice, I hope you’ll send out something this year. Mail a few special Cards or write to everyone you know. The one holiday message we most need to share this year is love and joy.

And hope. Jesus came into this world to offer the hope of redemption. When I send a Christmas letter, I like to think I’m playing my small part in sharing that hope.

So put your hopes on paper, slip them in an envelope and send it off with love. May God bless you, your family and everyone on your mailing list this year. Merry Christmas!

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