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The "Standard of Ur" from ancient Mesopotamia

The "Standard of Ur" from ancient Mesopotamia

15 December 2010

The art of the holiday letter

It's the time of year when people sit down to write a letter to someone far away. No, I'm not talking about Santa. Rather, I mean the letter some people enclose with their holiday greetings.

Some people hate getting holiday letters, particularly photocopied ones.

Others—like me—love them.

I love seeing how people's children have grown and changed, finding out about people's new hobbies and adventures they've had, and reconnecting with people who live far away. I feel so disappointed when I tear open the envelope of a holiday card and find nothing on the card but a signature, unless it's from a friend I communicate with often.

I've been preparing our holiday letter this week and so have been thinking about one should include and what one should leave out, which led to the creation of this set of guidelines:

How to Write a Holiday Letter or Note That Shauna Will Enjoy

  • DO include at least one family photo.
  • DO mention important news, such as a new home, a new job, a new spouse, a new child, or a new serious illness or surgery in the family. Don't forget divorces and deaths. It's embarrassing to meet up with a mutual acquaintance and learn from them that your house burned down, you were widowed, you changed your sex, or your dog was Queen of the Barkus parade.
  • DO update news left unresolved in last year's letter. If your cat was missing in last year's letter, in this year's letter I'd like to find out whether she ever came home.
  • DO give a specific detail or two for each event you mention. For example, for our vacation this year, which was a long weekend in Long Beach, I mentioned that we stayed on the Queen Mary ship, which has been partly restored, and that we went to the aquarium, which had many rays, some of which visitors were allowed to touch.
  • DON'T include political rants. I already see too many of those on Facebook and in my email.
  • DO tell me about your children and grandchildren and remind me what grade they're in now.
  • DON'T limit your news to "important" things. If you've started growing rare varieties of pansies or taken up the bagpipes or snake handling, I'd enjoy hearing about it and seeing pictures.
  • DO include the full and correct names of your new books and CDs. If they're not available on, please tell me how to find them. Modesty stops being a virtue when it forces your friends to spend a lot of time tracking down your stuff.

Are you a holiday note lover like me, or do you say, "Bah, Humbug!" when you open a Christmas card and a letter drops out? How do you think holiday letters could be improved?


Ken Schneyer said...

I do e-mail holiday letters, and I've taken to treating them as writing exercises. Last year, it the letter was a snarky arts review. The year before, a report from a private detective.

Steve Malley said...

Awww, you make them sound so fun. :)
One small drawback to life as a Nomadic Gypsy Pirate is that holiday letters play no part...

In fact, quite a few recent contacts have run along the lines of, "Damn, you're still ALIVE?!" ;-p

Charles Gramlich said...

I did a variation on this for a few years when Josh was small, mostly with news about him and various funny things that happened to us. I kind of wish I had those now but they are long lost on an old computer. I don't even know if I have hard copies anywhere.

Shauna Roberts said...

KEN, we've sometimes done theme holiday letters in years in which nothing much happened. It's a fun exercise.

STEVE, you may be a Wandering Gypsy Pirate, but as long as you have your computer, you can get holiday greetings. HAPPY HOLIDAYS, STEVE! (And if you ask nicely, I'll even email you our holiday newsletter and then you'll have at least one.)

CHARLES, the holiday letters from people with young kids are usually the most fun to read, because they're all about the kids' crazy antics.

Lana Gramlich said...

I enjoy receiving such letters & wish I were better about sending them!
Happy New Year. My best to you & yours. :)