‘Tis the Season to Send Out Annoying Holiday Greetings


Nothing strikes fear into the hearts of Americans like the prospect of writing Christmas greetings. I should know–as the family wordsmith, it falls to me each year to crank out a two-page missive that’s engaging, informative and treads that fine line between connecting with friends and family–and smarmy bragging.

I have to admit that a few years I’ve skipped the damn thing altogether. This is because I try to make it entertaining and humorous. But if nothing funny has happened during the previous year (for us, 1992, 1998, 2003 and 2008 qualified) I end up sounding like Jack Webb (just the facts, ma’am) and I fear that nobody will want to read it. So the self-imposed pressure tends to build to Vesuvian proportions.

If you seize up like the Tin Man after a rain storm just thinking about writing holiday greetings, relax. Give yourself a break. As my gift to you, loyal Conan reader, I’ve put together a bullet list of Christmas letter dos and don’ts for your information and edification.

  • Don’t take yourself too seriously. Unless you’ve won the Pulitzer, brokered a peace accord in the Middle East or donated a kidney to a third-world orphan, you’re not that important. You’re like all the rest of us–just a bozo on this bus. Tell about your accomplishments briefly and with the proper amount of humility and gratitude.
  • Be yourself. We like you just the way you are. If you’re not funny, don’t try to be funny because you think no one will read your letter if you’re not.
  • Don’t give us a minute-by-minute stenographic accounting of the past year. Just hit the highlights.
  • Limit yourself to writing about the immediate family, and keep the medical talk to a minimum. Nobody’s interested in Great Aunt Agnes, and they definitely don’t want to hear about her bunion surgery.
  • Go ahead and talk about your kids, but don’t compare them to Stephen Hawking or Indira Gandhi or BeyoncĂ©. Of course your kids are special. Everyone’s kids are special.
  • Never use your holiday greetings as a marketing piece or sales letter for your business. It’s bad enough that there’s advertising at movie theaters nowadays.
  • If bad stuff has happened to you, it’s a good bet that everyone on your mailing list already knows about it, so don’t recap unless the story has a happy, uplifting ending.
  • As a corollary to the above point, your Christmas letter should be a beacon of hope and good cheer, a way of reaching out and touching others, a relational experience–not a self-indulgent catharsis for you.
  • Tell stories. People love stories. It’s the best way to paint a picture of Life at Your House.
  • Proofread your work. Care enough to send your very best. Yes, it does too matter.

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