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Season’s Greetings – yikes!

By Linda Hoffman Kimball

Every year about this time I feel the pressure build. What am I going to do for The Family Christmas Letter?

There are a lot of styles of family Christmas letters. One of them is Brag Rags. Of course we enjoy the highlights of our friends’ years. It’s the kind where the “typical accomplishments” involve advances in world peace, cures for diseases and callings-and-elections-made-sure that leave me quaking in my humble elfin boots.

There are Grinch Greetings. Some people share their rants about how life has mistreated them this year (again) and detail their disses and disappointments. These don’t make for jolly reading, but they provide interesting psychological profiles.

I appreciate Homespun Holiday Howdies. While I may not retain the names of these writers’ prescriptions meds, their bushel count for garden beans, or the number of times they called a plumber this year, I’m glad they share with me the minutia of their precious lives. A steady diet of it might drive me nuts, but once a year at Christmas is a joy.

On Downer, On Blitzen Christmas letters can be wrenching. Some years are just awful and there simply is no festive way to pass on news of diagnoses or disasters. 2007 was our year for that. When you have a few minutes you can check out the online version of our efforts that year at http://kimballsdeepchristmas.blogspot.com/. My hallelujah-he’s-still-alive-husband figured out the technology. I’m usually a scissors and paper gal.

Whatever form they take, I love getting annual hold-in-my-hand updates from my amazing extended posse. Truth be told, I love making them despite the pressure. It’s a good blend for my artsy and authory sides and a joyful way to share the love.

When creating my own Christmas letters I have five golden rings rules:

1. Be Creative

2. Keep it brief – under one page of text.

3. Entertain/Amuse

4. Don’t make anything too labor intensive

5. Never require extra postage

Over the years I have sent out crosswords, jigsaw puzzles, word searches, board games, song lyrics, Sudoku (one which I discovered too late was impossible to solve; and, as penance, one the following year that I knew would work), cartoons, a mini-advent calendar and more. I think I only broke the “no extra postage” rule once. I have broken the labor intensity rule too many times to count.

What do YOU do for your family Christmas letters? What kinds have you received that stand out in your memory (for good or ill)? How do you feel about e-Christmas cards or blog holiday greetings as a substitute for mailed ones? Have you made any noteworthy connections by sending family Christmas letters? How do you word your spiritual holiday enthusiasm in letters that may be going to people who aren’t “into that sort of thing”?

About Linda Hoffman Kimball

Linda Hoffman Kimball is an artist, writer, photographer, and poet who grew up as a faithful Christian near Chicago, & joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1971 while at Wellesley College near Boston. Early on she assumed that all Latter-day Saints were articulate, inquisitive, faithful, and socially engaged since her role models in the University wards in Cambridge, MA., were. Her husband says she is “fluent, but not native” in Mormon-ese. She is a founding member of Mormon Women for Ethical Government.

25 thoughts on “Season’s Greetings – yikes!”

  1. Pictures of people's new houses with the header proclaiming the said house is a product of their righteousness, well those are a smudge irritating.

    So we tend to write the antithesis of that, sometimes I think I even end up making fun of those kinds of cards (one year we proclaimed to the world that the great blessing of our year from our righteous efforts were new sheets).

    I love Christmas cards, though! I love gathering them together and connecting in even those small ways with so many people from my past and present. I just love it, so send me your address and I'll add everyone!

  2. My favorite card was the "Hidden Picture" card. I took a picture of a bunch of random things in a pile. The newsletter was filled with objects they had to find and a little blurb as to why it was there.

    Last year I sent out a Sudoku card that they had to solve to figure out which of the crazy comments I listed were actually true (which were the most boring ones). Come to find out – we don't have that many nerdy friends. Most didn't do the puzzle and we are still getting inquiries about my attending law school, my son doing his ski-jump lessons, and my daughter's new reality TV show.

    This year we're just sending a picture of us.

  3. Last year I changed the words to "Twas the Night Before Christmas" and detailed a day in our crazy family life. It was a hit — tons of people mentioned it. The only trouble is that it's hard to top! I amused myself by making a report card this year, but when I emailed it to a friend for proofing and she didn't even open it for a week (totally not her style), I decided to do something simpler! We've had a c.r.a.z.y year and I want to catalog it properly, but I'm struggling to condense, entertain, and inform in a succinct manner.

  4. We do the card/ picture with a link to our family Christmas letter blog. We send to lots of work people and they might not all want the letter– so those who do can click on over. Nothing cutesy.

  5. My sister's husband does the cards. One year he did a top ten moments of that year for each family member. It was pretty fun to read. Another time he did, "Overheard at our house." Last year, he did a thankful letter. One thing each family member was thankful for. Sometimes he just sends a thoughtful holiday message and a photo card. I really enjoy what he does. I love getting the photos from old friends and seeing how much their kids have grown and what they are up to.

    I don't like the letters that state the the GPA of each child (it's true, I've had that happen. Why would I care?), the numerous vacations they took (brief mention of 1 or 2 is ok) or excessive bragging about worldly things.

    We have had a tradition the past few years of not sending out family newsletters. I do miss the tradition but I don't miss the stress of getting it done. Good luck to you in your letter writing.

  6. I did a fake Facebook update page last year that looked real and was pretty funny, so can't imagine how to top that this year…

    I know what you mean, don't want to be braggy, or lengthy, or whiny–it's a tough balance!

  7. I just send out cards to some family and friends with a hand written greeting. My husband and I are students so our life doesn't change much year to year. Plus most of our family and friends follow me on my blog or facebook. I do like the idea of sending out a picture with a link to a blog newsletter.

  8. My husband is a creative writer and so he's in charge of writing the letter each year. We've had a bunch of fun things–one year he used Dewey Decimals and library headings to organize events (he's a librarian too), one year we used the font for the Simpsons titles and listed events like episode titles, another time we had a picture of us as superheroes from Halloween so we listed each person's 'superpowers', etc. Last year he made it look like a search page from Google and had snippets from fake websites like "MyFace" about us. Our relatives love it, but it can be hard to come up with something new every year. We're still deciding about this year.

    I've mostly loved every letter I've received; I like to hear from friends and see how their families are growing. The only ones I don't like are the ones written from the point of view of a kid or of a dog.

  9. The truth, right? Christmas letters are a favorite part of this season to me. I could even read stacks and stacks of them from people I don't even know and be happy. They are so telling, and often very funny…even sometimes when they are not trying to be. Oh life on paper is the best. I'm a people lover…can you tell?

  10. As a single-gal I sporadically sent out Christmas cards with a 3.5" card of notes about my year. As a married-gal I expect to remain just as sporadic and may let myself use both sides of the 3.5" card this year. 🙂

    My intent in sending out such cards are as a, "Hi, I want you to know I love and care for you, but it's out of my means to send you a gift and I don't think you'd necessarily want one anyway."

    Once my cards did make a noteworthy connection. After the passing of a grandfather, I resolved that I ought to not hesitate to contact my grandparents. I wrote a newsy letter to my somewhat estranged great-grandmother. She actually called me to express appreciation for the letter, apologies that her old hands could no longer write, and request that even if she doesn't respond to continue writing. A few years later her son (my uncle of a sort with whom my family has little to no contact) personally called me at an early hour in the morning to inform me his mother had passed away. I since have been lax in maintaining a relationship with the uncle, but it's joyful to know that I managed to establish some form of contact with my great-grandmother.

  11. I usually include a few pictures of the family, usually mainly of my daughter! One year I had a small photo and brief description of what happened that month, ending every month with the line no emergency surgeries since that is how the previous year ended. Another year I had photos from all the trips we went on, detailing how we tried to escape all of our woes, including car repairs, plumbing issues, etc. That one worked really well, considering we got into a car accident on a trip to a wedding in November.

    I really would prefer a brief what happened this year and what we're up to rather than a brag page of my 4-year-old got an Olympic Medal and the Nobel Peace Prize for coloring. And I really detest letters detailing church callings. Go ahead and let us know if your husband is the Bishop or something like that, but we don't need paragraphs with too much detail!

  12. My husband sends out Christmas letters with a family photo every other year. He does a great job at keeping it light, enjoyable reading.

    I really like hearing from everyone and post their photo/cards on a door in the hallway. Looking at those faces for a few weeks makes me smile a lot.

  13. We send out a picture card with a hand written note inside. I don't really like the yearly letter. We hang our cards on the pantry door as they come and usually they are the last thing we take down at the end of the season.

    I love getting cards in the mail and would be so sad if my friends stopped sending them. I know eventually it will end, but this is one tradition I will drag out till the post office closes!

  14. I'm with Grandma Honey, I love getting letters. The only time I don't is when someone I really love only signs the family picture.

    This year our family letter is tricky. We've just become foster parents – this is something we're happy about doing and a big change to our lives so I want to share, but not in a braggy kind of way. I'm thinking about sharing a little about it, then saying how we couldn't do it without the love and support of family and friends. Overall it is awkward because of the response we get to fostering.

  15. I love getting Christmas cards and especially love Christmas letters. I don't care if people brag or complain. Let em brag! Let em whine! I think too many people DON'T send letters because they're afraid of offending some random person, but then the rest of us miss out on hearing about our friends' lives. Plus, writing is hard. Writing about ourselves and our families for general consumption is even harder. I tend to want to give those who attempt to do it the benefit of the doubt—the vast majority are really just trying to share their lives with people who love them.

  16. Writing our letter is one of my favorite traditions–I keep a copy of each one in a book for us. It is a good review of where we've been over the years. I try to avoid bragging. I've been able to pdf it and so most of mine go out electronically but I do snail mail a few as well. I figure if people want to print it, fine. If not, fine. At almost .50/letter it would be prohibitive to keep up with all my high school (I went to three) and college friends and other loved ones. I know it is somewhat generic to do it but most newsletters are. I LOVE receiving them and seeing what everyone else has been up to. I even like the bragging ones because then I (snarkily) laugh up my sleeve and wonder if the people writing them realize how transparent they are. Then I wonder if I have similar blind spots too! 🙂

  17. I write a rhyming poem for our card every year that is partially spiritual and mostly funny, with an intro about the "fun" side of Christmas and a conclusion about the "serious" side. In between these verses, I do two verses about each family member.

    I fit it all into one side of a page by using two columns and a smallish skia font. I write it after Thanksgiving and send it out the first week of December.

    The "card" (actually Christmas-themed computer paper tri-folded and sealed) seems to be well received, and I like the format because it catches everyone up on our news without boring them to tears.

    As for me, I enjoy receiving any kind of Christmas card from friends and family that has even one sentence of personal greeting on it. (I do make sure to write a short note at the bottom of mine!)

    The personal touch is everything, I think…


  18. Oh, I was about to say "please don't send me any poems", but then Sue had to make that comment right before me. But I'm sure Sue has a firm grip on rhyme schemes and iambic pentameter. Unlike every family who sends us poems each year. They can be painful!

    And please don't tell me that your preteen/teen likes to listen to their ipod. No duh. I can't tell you how many letters said that very thing last year. Is that really the most interesting thing about your child?

  19. Oh Jennie, your comment made me laugh.

    I've received poems once or twice that make me wince a bit, too. But, hey, I still have to admire those would-be poets for giving that form of creativity a go!


  20. I love getting Christmas cards, photos, letters. I love to see how my friends and their families have changed and what they have been up to. I send out a photo card every year and a letter some years. It seems to depend on how I feel. I didn't send letters the years I was depressed (I guess I was sparing everyone the Grinch Greetings).

  21. I'm for all types of cards & letters! I just want them! And I love leaving them up for a few weeks after Christmas.

    I try to stick with one page of energetically written news. And a link to my blog. And photos of the year. It changes every year. I wish my husband did it! Lucky lady (the commenter above).

    Here come's the holidays, alright!!

  22. When we first married, the mother of my beloved sent a box of cards, plus a list of who should receive them. Thankfully, she was not offended when her darling son's wife did not comply.

    With the entire family on facebook now, as well as most of my friends, and all our blogs… well, it's a lot easier to keep up with what everyone is doing on my side of the equation, and my beloved's side is down to his immediate family (3/4 of which is also on Facebook). I quit sending out cards entirely. I feel so liberated!

    I do still send chatty letters to my dad's parents, and updates for photo albums to MIL and my mom/grandma.

    I prefer the humorous, newsy letters, myself. My SIL writes a wicked satirical letter that manages to get a lot of truth in there amidst the snark.


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