If my September 25 post reminding you that you only have three months to write your holiday letter didn’t send you straight to the keyboard, that’s good—because I’ve found a great set of tips for how not to write your letter.
I am not biggest fan of Christmas letters, and yet I can’t refrain from writing them. What’s more, I can’t keep myself from slipping into what I know are bad habits. In my 2006 letter, I actually listed all the things I felt people shouldn’t say in a holiday letter, mostly because they are cliché or cover topics in which only the writer is interested. Then I turned around and used one.
In my opinion, the most cliché way to open a holiday letter is by asking, “Where has the time gone?” or “Where did the year go?” I also prefer to omit unseemly medical conditions that might spoil a reader’s cup of Christmas tea. A letter we received one year actually contained the words “rectal prolapse.”
I could go on and on but I will let John E. McIntyre of The Baltimore Sun do it for me – and more eloquently at that. In a recent blog piece, McIntyre offers tips for making a letter less cheesy than it might be. He suggests refraining from any and all holiday metaphors, analogies and parodies of the Twelve Days of Christmas. He also reminds us that the 12 days begin on Christmas and run through January 6th. This is especially important to me, not just as a Christian but also because my birthday falls 12 days before Christmas, and I’d like a little time to celebrate the occasion (and observe Advent) before the big day hits.
McIntyre also helpfully points out that, while Hanukkah comes close to Christmas, “they are not twins.” Nevertheless, is it still all right for me to use my holiday card to wish a happy Hanukkah to all my Jewish friends?
He advises letter writers to avoid ‘Tis and ‘Twas and to back away from the Dickensian: “No ghosts of anything past, present or future. Delete bah and humbug from your working vocabulary. Treat Scrooge as you would the Grinch, by ignoring him. Leave little Tiny Tim alone, too.”
If you’re interested in cutting the cheese from your holiday letter, then before you put pen to pad, or fingertips to keyboard, try heeding John McIntyre’s advice. I promise to do the same.