The Christmas and New Year’s letter was a tradition in England that predated the first Christmas card in 1843, according to www.Smithsonian.com. With the expansion of the British postal system, Sir Henry Cole, who had many friends and acquaintances and not enough time to write a letter to each of them, commissioned the printing of the first Christmas card. It was a time saving device, in order to answer all the letters he had received. The Christmas card was born.

Even in this digital age, there are many people who maintain the tradition of sending both a Christmas card and letter to family and friends.  

The Christmas letter, like any form letter, is also meant to save time. Christmas is an especially busy time of year. People want to balance the desire and importance to keep in touch, with the myriad of Christmas tasks and events that compete for precious time.  If you want to reach out to family and friends to let them let know you are thinking of them, and also about the highs and lows of the past year, in your corner of the world, the Christmas letter comes to the rescue.  Here are some tips for writing a memorable Christmas letter.

Use an organized Approach.  Start early.  Open a document file in your computer and add little paragraphs as interesting events occur throughout the year.

Another good method is to go through the year chronologically, hitting the highlights, month by month. You don’t need to have something for every month. Focus on milestones such as births of children, grandchildren, memorable trips, changing jobs or addresses.  

No one wants to hear details like that on January 1st you met the promise of the New Year by cleaning up cat vomit, and that on the 2nd, you burned your toast.

Use Humour.  Humour will turn a dry list of events into a Christmas letter that is unforgettable. People love stories, and like to laugh. A friend of mine sent a Christmas letter written from the point-of-view of the family dog. Years later, I still smile when I think of that letter, because it was so fresh and original, and told the family news in a humorous way.  

The best source of humorous material is yourself. You undoubtedly learned a number of things over the course of the year. Some were funny, or could be if you looked at them that way. Perhaps you learned that the Boulder Dam is NOT in Boulder, Colorado, but is actually another name for the Hoover Dam in Nevada. Who knew?  Maybe the gas station attendant in Boulder knew, when you asked for directions.

Use descriptive and interesting language. “We camped for two weeks at Kathleen Lake,” is not as interesting as: “For two weeks, in the shadow of pristine Kluane National Park, beside the crystal clear glacial blue waters of Kathleen Lake, we drank in the beauty all around us.  We relaxed without cell phones, saw the awesome spectacle of the night sky, and made bannock on an open fire.”  

Give appropriate background.  Explain the relationship between yourself and the people you mention in the letter.  Saying that you went to visit George is not as informative as saying that you spent a glorious week with perfect grandson George, who taught you to see the wonders of the miraculous world all around you, and reminded you of the healing balm of a child’s laughter.

Recognize those who have passed on.  People, pets and relationships change.  It is only right to mention that Fluffy is no longer a part of the family, and has hopefully found a new sunbeam in which to bask in the next life.  Mention the loss, but try and find something positive to say.  We are grateful that we had Fluffy in our lives for so many years, but know that she is in a better place. Don’t focus on the suffering, if there was any, but acknowledge the loss, and say something about a life well lived.  Think about how tastefully those who have passed on are recognized at the Oscars. Short, sweet, tasteful.

Keep it short. Limit your letter to one page. Use both sides if you must, but limiting the space will keep the letter concise and interesting. Trim some of the less interesting items if you are running short of space. This is not a novel or diary.  Be selective with the highlights.

Personalize the Letter.  Add something personal between you and the intended recipient. Wish them happiness in their new home, success in their new job, or hopes that in the New Year you can get together. The Christmas letter is a form letter, but by taking a moment to write one or two lines of a personal nature, it shows you care about the recipient who is not just a name on a list.

End on an upbeat note. Perhaps you anticipate a trip, move, promotion, or child in the coming year. Look forward with hope. Challenge your friends and family to do the same.  This might be the place to include a short quote, something that urges people to be the change they want to see, or encourage them to pay forward random acts of kindness.  This is a time of peace and goodwill. It is a time of reflection when people want to be the best version of themselves. With you encouragement, and the promise of a brand new year, perhaps they can.

In the coming year, laugh more, worry less and be kind to yourself and those you meet.