Yuletide family newsletters to far flung relatives have never been part of my December routine. What with baking, decorating, shopping and wrapping gifts, followed by standing in airport-length queues at the post office, who has hours or stamina for one more ritual?
My main objection to the typical Christmas letter is its determined cheerfulness listing all the offsprings’ accomplishments, and brotherly love exchanged among family members even those you suspect they keep a bag packed to make a hasty door-slamming exit if it comes to that.
Too often reading one of these flattering letters left me dispirited, feeling like a failure as a mother and a mate. Itineraries from a month long holiday to Bali, zip lining through the forest of some tropical island I couldn’t pinpoint on a map, or teens taking skiing lessons in Aspen were beyond my pocket book and aspirations.
Paul Turner, a feature writer for the Spokane “Spokesman-Review”, soothed my misgivings with his recent column, The Slice, wherein he listed his top 10 ways to make your family newsletter Christmas card a delightful reading experience for everyone on your list:
“1. First familiarize yourself with the writing of Calvin Trillin. 2. Remember the holiday letter isn’t Facebook. 3. Be brutally honest. 4. Don’t shy away from mentioning arrests and convictions. 5. Brag about Dad not being caught up in any sexual harassment scandals. 6. List the weights of all family members. 7. Use obviously doctored family photos. 8. Bring up probate issues. 9. Speculate about current status of ex-spouses. 10. Weigh in on Donald Trump.
Two of Turner’s tips would not have applied while my family was receiving others’ annual accounts – harassment had yet to enter daily vocabulary and Donald Trump was still married to his first wife.
Tip number one, familiarize yourself with Calvin Trillin, I take it to mean reading his light hearted essays would put you in an effervescent mood conducive to writing funny anecdotes about your family. Funny anecdotes leaven any correspondence.
Reminding us that a holiday letter is not Facebook could restrict us to use proper, complete English words rather than text-style abbreviations only thumb writers understand.
Being brutally honest should condense the letter to its essentials at the same time lessening the risk of a reader interpreting your message as bragging.
Many families today have ample chance to mention arrests and convictions, if they choose to air their dirty laundry, what with the widespread use of drugs and guns coupled with the lack of responsibility and adherence to laws. Last week Judge Judy heard a rental dispute between a young woman and two 18-year-olds. The legal drinking age in the state is 19. Yet the teens staged a party serving liquor, and their dog chewed the top of the woman’s dining table. After losing their case and being ordered to pay damages, one 18-year-old flippantly explained, “We’re in college. What do you expect?”
A lot more. For starters, respect for their landlord’s property, the rental agreement they signed, and the state’s liquor laws. No wonder helicopter parents feel forced to supervise their adult children well into college.
Doctoring family photos is a modern touch to encourage shy folk to have their likenesses passed around. Who would doubt their authenticity. Kids change so much from one year to the next.
Sharing probate issues, pending divorces, and weight gain or loss are bound to spice up your letter, animate dinner table conversations, and foster frequent correspondence at least into February. Try Turner’s prompts to help you compose a memorable newsletter.