‘Tis the season for writing and receiving Christmas cards and newsletters. While it can be fun to hear from everyone, some people have a knack for sharing better stuff. If you’d like your cards to be well received this year, consider the following ideas:
Don’t share every accomplishment for every family member. Be selective–maybe just the highlights. It’s okay to share a few. People want to know, but don’t go overboard. Otherwise, you’ll come across as bragging, which turns others off.
Don’t be long-winded. Shorter is better. Only close relatives will read long letters. Even then, they’ll just skim read–unless you happen to be an engaging writer. Stick to sharing the most important news about members of your family. Keep in mind that recipients are often rushed during the holidays and don’t have time to read lots of content.
Do think of your audience. Perhaps someone who has just lost a loved one would benefit from a personal note instead of or in addition to a card that you’re sending to everyone in a mass mail. Here is an article with suggestions for writing to someone who is grieving.
Do add a short, personal note to each card. We’ve all received a card where someone has just signed their name or written a quick, meaningless “Happy Holidays!” You can get away with that if you’re a business and just being nice. If you have included a newsletter with your yearly highlights, you’re not expected to write an epistle. We get that you’re busy and are sending out a lot of cards. But reconsider sending a card where you’re really not including anything meaningful. Something as simple as “Let’s keep in touch. My email is . . . ” can be just the right, handwritten touch.
Every year our family exchanges cards and newsletters with a few hundred people. We absolutely love hearing from everyone. Over 15 years ago, I worked at LDS Church Magazines with a gentleman named Larry Hiller, who was on the New Era staff. To this day, I remember his wit in those yearly letters. They were truly “hiller-ious”–a spoof on Christmas newsletters, in general. So I asked Larry to share a few of his witty remarks from years past.
He graciously agreed, adding a short explanation up front, which I am pleased echoes my main “beef” with some newsletters. “We started sending these Christmas letters,” he explains, “in reaction to the letters we were getting from others–letters that bragged ad nauseam about kids and grandkids, great accomplishments, great jobs, expensive vacations, etc.”
He continues, “Good story telling is like good cooking. Overdo the herbs and spices and you ruin the dish. A mere dash or pinch is often best. Truth is a strong herb, and many a good story has been spoiled by adding too much of it.” Then he adds, “Truth is a crutch for those handicapped by lack of imagination.”
Larry has a gift with words. He’s a professional writer. But his points are well taken and can be adapted by anyone. Enjoy reading a few excerpts from newsletters he’s written in years gone by. See how they’re light-hearted and fun? See how he likes to poke fun at himself? If you can share fun stories like these with friends, you’re sharing a great holiday gift, easily mailed and ready to be opened and enjoyed many times.
Another year has wobbled past. Fortunately, we have learned to put a positive spin on the passage of time. We no longer regard ourselves as aging. We like to think of ourselves as heroic time travelers venturing into the future! But maybe not so much like Dr. Who and more like Dr. Huh?
The end of this year’s presidential election was a great relief for everyone. The result, on the other hand, left many feeling like the man who escaped the gallows by jumping over a wall–only to find himself in front of a firing squad. We are simply grateful that the plague of political phone calls stopped after November 8. Naturally most were robocalls–no opportunity to remark on the callers’ rung on the evolutionary ladder, or to delve into their flirtatious relationship with reality.
Just when the peace and quiet was beginning to get on our nerves, unsolicited sales calls increased–again most of them robocalls. But every so often the opportunity for revenge presented itself in the form of a live caller.
CALLER: Good afternoon, Mr. Hiller. My name is Alex and I am with the Computer Service Center. We’ve detected a problem with your computer.
LARRY: Umm, I think my computer’s okay. Right now my problem is with windows.
ALEX: Sir, I think your problem with windows is actually a problem with your computer. But we can help you with that.
LARRY: You’re going to fix my computer and then my windows will work?
ALEX: Yes sir, exactly. Then your windows should work fine.
LARRY: Well, okay but . . ..
ALEX: Are you in front of your computer? Is it on?
LARRY: Just a minute.
LARRY, continuing after a pause for a snack: Okay, now I’m in front of my computer and it’s on. But now I can’t get at my windows.
ALEX: I assure you, sir, that we can help you. But first I will need some information from you . . ..
LARRY: You mean, like are they sliding windows or the kind that go up and down?
ALEX: I beg your pardon?
LARRY: These are sliding windows, not the up and down kind. Does that make a difference? They just keep sticking.
Alex’s accent pegs him as having been born somewhere on the Indian subcontinent, but the sound of exasperation he makes is universal.
Earlier in the year, Larry went to the foot doctor about an unusual sore spot in his right foot. After every test the doctor could think of, he admitted that he really had no idea what was wrong. Looking at the foot in puzzlement he said, “This is really a head-scratcher.” As he left the office Larry was heard to mutter: “Well, that was useless. It’s been years since I was limber enough to use my foot that way!”
On a road trip, driving on a two-lane country road we passed a couple of farm trucks going the other way. As they went by, something hit the left side of the windshield, two inches from the doorpost, with incredible force. It left a big crater and turned that part of the windshield opaque.
No shop in the area carried a replacement windshield. The best one shop could do was cover the crater with packing tape. At another place, everyone speculated about what the missile could have been–a rock, a golf ball. . . . There was a brief pause as not-so-nimble minds cast about for possibilities. Then: “Maybe it was a small-caliber bullet.” The thought came in a raspy drawl from a dark corner of the shop, uttered by a gap-toothed man in filthy overalls, his eyes mere glints under his greasy baseball cap. A chill ran down our spines. We hurried to get out from under the A/C vent.
“A bullet!” The thought haunted us as we drove back to Salt Lake, suspicious of every passing vehicle and scanning the roadside scenery for any glint that might be a sniper’s scope. Back in Salt Lake we told our story to the technician who replaced our windshield. He thought a minute and then observed that “it could have been a lug nut.” Of course! That made sense. Our paranoia vanished. This was something we routinely deal with–loose nuts on Utah roads.
We took a little vacation to southern Utah last summer. On a whim, we decided to take an extra day to stay in Torrey, one of our favorite places. Maybe it was because it was a last-minute reservation, but the motel clerk put us in a really old part of the motel. Our room obviously hadn’t been rented out for a long time. We looked in the nightstand expecting to see a Bible wound around two sticks and autographed by the original Gideon.
Anyway, Larry woke up with what looked like a bunch of small insect bites under his arm. And they itched. And yes, we were thinking the same thing you are thinking. The itching got worse and the “bites” became inflamed, so Larry finally went to the doctor to see if they were infected. The doctor said, “Those aren’t bedbug bites. You’ve got shingles.” Rather than being grateful, Larry was heard to mutter, “Shingles! What I really needed were rain gutters.”
About his fun newsletters, Larry says, “Some of our stories are based on true events. I really did toy with the guy who called about my computer. And the windshield story is also true, except for added color. Come to think of it, the shingles story is also true. But most everything else I share is made up or exaggerated and we make fun of ourselves.
More Clever Options
Include a QR code on your card. Then, if your recipients are interested in learning more about your family events, they can scan the code and visit your blog.
Send cards another month. Who says they have to be Christmas cards? I loved receiving this Valentine’s card from a friend a few years ago.
Be creative. This family paraphrased text from a favorite children’s book to tell their story.
Pick a paragraph and a picture. Choose a favorite photo of each family member and include highlights in a brief paragraph–simple and very effective.
Share the gift of music. This religious card opened up to a wonderful gift inside.
Feature a cute picture. If your family can pull off a really great photo like this one, there’s not much else you need to do. This is one of my husband’s coworkers. I don’t even know her, but this picture makes me smile every time. You’d think it came from the star example on a Christmas card ordering website. I just love it!
Some other quick ideas: include pictures that aren’t super posed. The “keeping-it-real” pictures can be awesome! Also, if you don’t love to write much but want to include something meaningful, insert a copy of your favorite holiday recipe. My sister-in-law does it every year, and I keep and make those recipes. She is an amazing cook, so I love it when she shares.
Do People Read Electronic Newsletters?
And . . . if you were wondering whether it’s ok to send holiday greetings electronically, the answer seems to be yes. I polled almost 40 friends. 81% said yes, with 19% no or not usually. So odds are pretty good if you want to save on postage this year that you’ll still get great results in having your friends read your yearly newsletter. Chances of them saving it are probably pretty low. So, if you’re like me and want to save some of your Christmas newsletters for family history, then go ahead and snail mail them.
This year you have a chance to do something fun in the cards and newsletters you send out to others. Maybe you don’t feel you’re a great writer or super clever. That’s ok. Just think of what your friends and family would like to hear from you. Keep in mind that shorter is better, and try to make it interesting. After all, your newsletter is their gift from you.