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How to write a holiday letter that doesn’t make people cringe

We all enjoy receiving holiday family newsletters (also known as humble brag letters), especially when they are from friends and family members we don’t see every day. The best letters include fun anecdotes about the past year and close on a positive note with warm wishes for the year ahead.

But we’ll be honest that sometimes these letters seem self-indulgent and a bit impersonal, and if the letter writer is already active on Facebook, the whole thing can feel like a rehash of their social media posts.

We are willing to bet there is at least one family that sends a holiday letter each year that makes you cringe and roll your eyes when you read it. Perhaps you even look forward to receiving that letter because it is so fun to mock.

Here are seven tips on how to avoid being the family that sends that letter in their holiday card.

1. Write your letter in the first person.

Don’t write your letter in the third person as if one of Santa’s helpers penned it for you. We all know you’re the one who wrote it. Maybe it feels odd bragging about yourself and that is why you switched to the third person, but perhaps that should tell you something.

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2. Use anecdotes, rather than listing every achievement.

Don’t tell us everything your athletic and popular honor student has done during the last year. We love hearing about your child’s successes, but we don’t need to know about every grade, every recital, every award, every soccer score or every college they are applying to. Pick one amazing thing they did in the past year and tell us about all about it, like the time they scored the game-winning goal.

If your family went on an amazing 3-week cruise of the Mediterranean, don’t just list every country you visited. Instead, tell us something unique about each location. Tell us about the best day of your vacation.

3. Keep the bad news to a minimum.

Please don’t tell us who died in your family this year. Don’t tell us that you and your husband are getting a divorce, or that you are terminally ill. It’s the holiday season, so can we focus on all that we are thankful for? Also, if your readers are friends and family members, shouldn’t they already know these things? If they don’t, maybe you should pick up the phone and call. You don’t want to give Aunt Millie a heart attack.

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4. Try not to vent.

Don’t tell us how much you hate your job, your boss or your coworkers. Again, it’s the holidays and a time to reflect on what is good in our lives.

5. Get your facts straight.

Please check your facts, particularly when you are writing about one of your adult children. If your daughter is getting a master’s in historic preservation at an Ivy League school, make sure you have the correct name of the degree and the school.

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6. Check for embarrassing typos.

And speaking of checking, please check your newsletters for typos, or risk something like this: “We are so proud of Patty’s achievements at school this year. She was induced into the honor society last spring and continues to make her school’s honor role.”

7. Use the cocktail party test.

When crafting your letter, think about it this way: If we met for the first time at a cocktail party and you used the contents of your letter to make conversation, would I quickly drain my drink and suddenly say, “Oh, looks like I’m empty, please excuse me,” just to end the conversation? If the answer is yes, don’t write it!

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