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Writing the Perfect Holiday Letter

christmas cards hanging across a white wall
Photograph by Getty Images

The time has come to pull out my candy cane pen and draft our first annual family holiday letter. Since my oldest child was born, I’ve gotten by with the standard photo card. Granted, the more boys we’ve added, the more challenging it's become to get that group shot. I can only hope the recipients have appreciated the measure to which I have gone to get one with them all smiling in it—even if it is through gritted teeth.

But this year will be different. I'm tackling the holiday letter.

Since I’m relatively new to this exercise, all I have to fall back on are the boastful missives we’d receive from relatives and friends when I was growing up.

They’d always start with a phrase like, “Greetings from (insert name of tropical locale) where we vacationed this summer!” Or, “Hey-Ho, Neighbors—Yule never believe what’s been happening with the (insert last name of over achievers down the street)!”

The letters would then go on to regale us with stories about how their child landed a prized spot on some lame kiddy show or was one of the first in line at that brand new Disney amusement park in Orlando, Fla.

Ho, ho, ho …

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In preparation for writing the letter, I've been looking over old notes from friends and family. Before writer’s block settles over you like a foot of wet snow, here are some tips I've gleaned for writing the perfect holiday letter:

1. Be honest: Nothing trips up a holiday letter faster than a flagrant fabrication. These days, even toddlers have fact checking capability at their fingertips via the Internet. In a matter of seconds, your claim of making it to the top of the New York Times bestsellers list with your first literary effort, or that of your child winning the science fair by successfully debunking Einstein’s theory of relativity, will be exposed as a fraud.

2. Just keeping spinning: Honesty has its merits, but with a little embellishment, even the most ho-hum events can sound thrilling. Take, for instance, that time you and the family spent the day with your in-laws. With a little zing, that can be transformed into a perilous adventure in a foreign land. How about when you were cleaning the basement and found a long-lost kid’s toy or a missing leather glove? All your readers need to know is that you went on a hunting expedition in a subterranean locale and unearthed some prized treasures.

3. Add some bling: Worried that your family may still seem as exciting as a televised session of Congress? Not to worry. A fistful of shiny, colorful holiday-themed confetti can magically transform you into the envy of your friends and neighbors. As they open your envelope, they’ll be so distracted by all of the tiny Santas and snowflakes falling onto their just-vacuumed carpet, they won’t even notice that the highlight of your year was winning a free order of fries at your local burger joint.

4. Timing is everything: The savvy correspondent is careful to ensure her letter arrives in their recipients’ harried hands at just the right time. If you want to ensure the contents are not only read, but also scrutinized and gossiped about, be sure to send it early. If, however, you’d rather the contents avoid the glare of cross-examination, it’s best to send it later. This way, it has a higher chance of getting lost in the glut of North Pole–bound lists, and will receive at best a cursory glance on arrival.

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