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GUEST OPINION: A guide to writing that Christmas letter, if you must

  • This artwork by Mark Weber relates to winter storms that have much of the nation in their grip.

Nothing says "happy holidays" quite like the Christmas letter.

Every year, millions of Americans feel the need to augment simple holiday greeting cards with their own newsy prose. Indeed, these letters have become as much a part of the holiday season as over-eating, camping in parking lots before Black Friday and maxing out credit cards.

Since they're unlikely to go away anytime soon, I've humbly taken it upon myself to offer a short primer on the essential components of the successful Christmas letter.

First, it's imperative that you come up with an original lede to suck in your reader. Opening lines such as, "Where has this year gone?" or, "It's hard to believe the holidays are here again" are as fresh as that sprig of mistletoe that still hangs in your living room with spring's first buds.

My annual failures to exercise consistently, lose weight and turn over new leaves are sufficient reminders that I am careening into decrepitude and decay.

Second, always write your holiday letter in the first person. It's essential that the reader know with certainty who has perpetrated this act and who therefore deserves the blame. References that smack of martyrdom, only-in-America levels of frenzied activity and egregious self-promotion must be accurately attributed.

Men, when it falls on you to write the holiday letter I recommend that you phrase it as if it's your wife's work. She'll never notice; she's too busy buying Christmas presents for your parents, siblings and friends.

Third, readers can do without vivid and lengthy descriptions of your various maladies and surgeries. It is not in the holiday spirit to provide meticulous medical details about body parts removed, replaced or upgraded, or chronologies of hospital stays, medications required or recuperative regimens. One year I read a particularly uplifting tome whose author, over the course of four pages, went to great pains (pun intended) to educate his readers about fibromyalgia.

This precious and thoughtful holiday "gift" was as depressing as it was baffling. However, it turned cruelly comical when the writer, flush with excitement, recounted his unbridled joy at finding the perfect toilet seat to cushion one aspect of his suffering.

Fourth, make a list and check it twice before detailing your kids' accomplishments. Avoid anecdotes such as "out of 30 sixth-graders our son was selected as the most popular student in his class."


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