Wednesday, December 17, 2003

In Praise of the Holiday Letter 

I think the much-maligned Annual Holiday Letter has gotten a bad rap.

According to many popular media outlets (see this article from Pioneer Press as one example), I seemingly am in the minority when I boldly state that I am genuinely happy when I spot a Holiday Letter tucked into a Christmas card. It's so much better than a plain old greeting card hastily signed, addressed, sealed and stamped in assembly line fashion. While I do realize that Holiday Letters are necessarily mass-produced, I think it takes a lot more creative energy and sincere thought then scribbling your name a hundred times.

Warning: I am climbing up on my soapbox now!

These days, I am astonished at how many people buy those bizarre pre-printed cards, or worse yet use a pre-printed label to sign their name. (Yes, it's true -- I get a couple of those every year.) HELLO!? Are you so busy and important you can't even sign your own name, let alone write a cheery "Merry Christmas!"? Cut me a freakin' break! Unless you are business, or a movie star, or have a broken arm, sign your own name to a card! And if you ARE a business or a movie star, don't send those impersonal pre-printed cards to your best customers or close friends, DUH! What does that say about what you mean to them?

And while I am still up here on the box, how difficult is it for you to write the recipients' names at the top of the card? (As in "Dear John and Karin.") I get dozens of cards that are so astonishingly impersonal I truly wonder why they were sent in the first place. (I.E. the envelope has no return address; the card has absolutely no writing on it other than a scribbled name at the bottom.) I mean, are you sending me a card to wish me a happy Christmas and to let me know that you are thinking about me, then SAY so! If you are just sending a card out of some sort of twisted obligation, then just don't trouble yourself -- please! It only pisses me off.

Also -- do you think you could possibly spell my name right? It's really NOT THAT DIFFICULT: I instead of E! There are only five vowels (ok, sometimes six) in the American alphabet: PICK THE RIGHT ONE!

OK, I am climbing down off the soapbox now -- it's safe to read on.

A Christmas card is often one of the ways we reach out to those we don't see on a regular basis: an old college girlfriend, a neighbor who moved away years ago, a colleague you used to work with -- whatever. Around the holidays I tend to get a little sentimental, so if I haven't spoken to somebody in a while, I almost always try to include a brief personal note in the card to let them know I am thinking about them and that I am still alive and kickin'. The Holiday Letter does this much more efficiently and creatively and quickly.

I am not advocating that you send EVERYBODY on your card list a mass-produced Holiday Letter. For example, the people you see or talk to all of the time don't really NEED to get your Holiday Letter -- they already know what's going on in your life, right? I think that you should consider who you would welcome a Holiday Letter FROM, and send your letter to that select group of people. I also think that you might consider writing more than one version of your Holiday Letter -- one letter for family members that focuses on the kids or vacations, and perhaps another letter for friends that focuses on your travels or career moves.

It's too late to write a holiday letter for this Christmas, but it's not too early to start thinking about it for next year. In fact -- why not start your holiday letter in January, adding a paragraph each month as the year progresses? If you are not big on writing, but enjoy taking pictures, why not make an all-photo-plus-caption holiday letter, using photos from throughout the year?

Here are a few websites that offer some ideas for composing your holiday letter:

The perfect holiday letter (by Carrie Schmeck)

Writing the Holiday Letter (by Jim Heynen)

What makes a good holiday letter? (by Molly Millett)

I am looking forward to receiving YOUR Holiday Letter next year!
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