Tell about the past year using character sketches of family members. Entertain your readers with anecdotes that show rather than describe just how brilliant and clever your family members are. Good quotes are pure gold, especially from little ones’ backseat conversations. Interview your kids to come up with great material.
If your letter doesn’t immediately captivate your reader, the best content in the world will go straight into the trash can. Your care in the letter’s appearance shows respect for your reader.
Keep it to two pages, three at the most. There’s beauty in simplicity. Don’t do like one woman who sent me her twenty-eight-page, two-sided, single-spaced recount of every single day of the entire year. Your goal is to leave your readers wishing for more, not pleading for less.
This is the area on a page that is not covered by print. You have too much white space if you are conscious of big blank white spaces. If you squint your eyes and the entire page looks gray, not enough. A judicious use of white space gives your readers’ eyes a chance to rest.
This is mandatory white space. One and a half inches at the top and at least one inch at the bottom, right, and left is a good rule of thumb.
Control yourself. Even though you have 579 choices readily available, use no more than three in the same letter. Two is better.
There are specific rules, from quotation mark placement to spaces between sentences. You respect your reader’s intelligence when you care enough to punctuate correctly.
You can increase your letter’s value by including special photos. Make sure your pictures do not collide with your text. Allow for buffer space—a margin of at least 1/4-inch between the picture’s edges and where any text begins. Regarding photos and clip art, more is tacky, and less is lovely.
When you choose between long and short words, go with the short ones. Strip every sentence, so all that remains are the cleanest components. Examine every word and keep only those that are necessary. For example, don’t say “At this point” when you can say “Now.”
The purpose of your family letter is to reacquaint readers with your family and to convey your wishes for their joyful holiday. Keep to these rules:
- No press releases. This is not the right time to review your amazing career and most recent promotion.
- No fundraising. You do have a captive audience, but curb the urge to ask for donations for your next mission trip or sponsors for your kids’ Jog-A-Thon.
- No sales pitches. It is not cool to include an invitation to your next Tupperware party or mention that you have a wonderful business opportunity to share.
Could you use a little inspiration to get going? Check out the Flanders!
It’s difficult to find your own errors (tell me about it!), and spell checkers can be unreliable. Ask a couple of people to proofread your final version.
A Family Christmas Letter that has been thrown together at the last minute usually shows it.
In conclusion …
With any luck, this supposed Christmas Letter from Martha Stewart to Erma Bombeck will get you into a holiday letter-writing mood …
This perfectly delightful note is being sent on paper I made myself to tell you what I have been up to. Since it snowed last night, I got up early and made a sled with old barn wood and a glue gun. I hand-painted it in gold leaf, got out my loom, and made a blanket in peaches and mauves.
Then, to complete the sled, I made a white horse to pull it from DNA that I had just sitting around in my craft room. By then, it was time to start making placemats and napkins for my 20 breakfast guests. I’m serving the old standard Stewart twelve-course breakfast, but I’ll let you in on a little secret: I didn’t have time to make the tables and chairs this morning, so I used the ones I had on hand.
Before I moved the table into the dining room, I decided to add just a touch of the holidays. So I repainted the room in pink and stenciled gold stars on the ceiling.
While the homemade bread was rising, I took antique candle molds and made the dishes (the same shade of pink) to use for breakfast. These were made from Hungarian clay, which you can get at almost any Hungarian craft store.
Well, I must run. I need to finish the hand-sewn buttonholes on the dress I’m wearing for breakfast. I’ll get out the sled and drive this note to the post office as soon as the glue dries on the envelope I’ll be making.
Hope my breakfast guests don’t stay too long. I have 40,000 cranberries to string with bay leaves before my speaking engagement at noon. It’s a goodthing.
P.S. When I made the ribbon for this typewriter, I used 1/8-inch gold gauze. I soaked the gauze in a mixture of white grapes and blackberries which I grew, picked, and crushed last week just for fun.
Response from Erma Bombeck…
I’m writing this on the back of an old shopping list. Pay no attention to the coffee and jelly stains. I’m 20 minutes late getting my daughter off for school, packing a lunch with one hand on the phone with the dog pound, seems old Ruff needs bailing out again.
Burnt my arm on the curling iron when I was trying to make those cute curly fries, how DO they do that? Still can’t find the scissors to cut out some snowflakes, tried using an old disposable razor… trashed the tablecloth.
Tried that cranberry thing; frozen cranberries mushed up after I defrosted them in the microwave. Oh, and don’t use Fruity Pebbles as a substitute in that Rice Krispies snowball recipe unless you like food that resembles puke!
Smoke alarm is going off, talk to ya later.