Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Holiday Letter Discussion

Did you just run screaming to the other room as soon as you saw this?

It's the Annual Christmas Letter. Also not so fondly called, The ALCL (Annual Lying Christmas Letter), The ATSL (Annual Truth Stretching Letter),  The ABCL (Annual Bragging Christmas Letter.)

People love to write these. People say they hate to get these, but secretly, like a train wreck, we can't help but look. Some of us make an evening out of it; gathering up friends, lighting a fire, pouring the Pinot Grigio, and start ripping open the fat envelopes.

We write these, we receive them, but no one talks about them. You know, truth talks about them. Like, how they are *gulp* ridiculed. Yup. Made fun of. Passed around and taken to coffee klatches as a source of mirth and entertainment.

Is there no one to tell the writers of these letters that the chance exists, if they're not aware of it, of becoming the subject of tonight's mom's wine night out?

I will do it.

I'm at the halfway point in my life where I have to start knocking things off my bucket list. Holiday Letter Discussion is number 5 on that list.

Let's begin with assuming that everyone's got a good heart. I know I know, but let's just assume. You don't want to be boastful, right? You don't want to make everyone feel like they're the most underachieving family on the planet, do you? You want us, the ones on the other end, to know you wish us well and are thinking of us this holiday season. If we start at that point, then the rest will be a walk in the park.

How To Send Holiday Letters Out That Won't Make People Follow Up With a Request To Be Removed From Your Mailing List:

oAsk yourself, who are you writing this letter for? Really ask it.

oDo not write longer than one page. No buts. One page. End of it.

oNo $8.00 words, no matter how recently you learned egregious. Thank you.

oIf you've had the best year ev-er, if your husband is making money hand over fist, if your golden child finished up his third PhD in 18 months, we'd rather not hear about it.  Plain old happy news, like a new baby, new job, your first home, a first lost tooth on your kindergartner, your teen making the football team, your first writing gig; all good stuff we'd love to share your happiness over. But if you've had a bang up year and your home has increased in value over $100,000 again! Some things are best kept within the family.

oIt's easier for some of us to share happiness than others. For me, happiness and good things often feel foreign and like I stepped into that weird scene with the Gwyneth in Sliding Doors: Ooops! Wrong life! So, your effusiveness (that's only a 4 dollar word, not 8...) may sit with me as bragging. Bragging. Not catching up, but bragging. Bragging.

oThis suggestion is serious: be sensitive to your audience. Really. If you know of someone who has been trying to find work for most of the year, please don't send out a letter telling them how many times you've been promoted in your own job, or how may headhunters are after your awesomeness. Not nice. Same for a couple struggling with infertility; don't type up sentence after sentence on how everyone in your family is a fertile myrtle and gets pregnant just from the wink of an eye...Must be the water! LOL! This will only be LOL to you.

oWe know you want to make it fun, but Changing fonts and Shifting color changes leave me feeling like I've got an undiagnosed brain tumor. It does. And then I'll be too worried about getting an appointment with the neurologist before the New Year to pay any attention about your trip to Graceland.

oSelf deprecation is a great tool. Somehow, I'll listen about little third grade Tommy's history making ACT scores if you tell me how both you and your husband swear he's not from your litter and was dropped off by aliens.

oCount your adjectives:  if you've used wonderful or great more than 3 times in one page, time to stop.

oBottom line: you can't disguise bragging. We know.

I promise you that if you follow these suggestions, your Holiday Letter won't be turned into party fodder. Stick to these points, and no one will guess that you're telling us just what a GD good year you had. Even if you sign it, Here's to 2012! Though we can't imagine a better year than 2011 was!

Happy Holidays!


  1. Oh, Thank you from the bottom of my heart!

    We have some friends - who I love dearly - that write a FOUR PAGE letter every year! OIY! Not only that, they put the addresses, emails and PHONE NUMBERS of all of their grown children and spouses! I would have a kitten if they were my parents!

    I appreciate the service announcement - it is LONG OVERDUE! Wishing you well....

  2. Everyone needs to read these guidelines!!

    Fortunately, where I live, it's not the culture to send out such insipid missives. Phew.

  3. Also? For god's sake, no rhyming. Unless you are Dr. Seuss, which you are not, because he's dead and all, do not under any circumstances send me a brag letter in verse form. It will make me make fun of you, which will make me feel bad about myself, which will make me more depressed than I already am because of the seasonal depression thing and the incessant holiday music playing in the overcrowded stores and the light up reindeer sweaters from hell and the fact that my child has had a snotty nose for a solid month. Please? Thanks. And thanks to you, dear Empress, for this public service. Sorry I lost it there for a bit.

  4. Oh my 3 favorites: I knew it had to be done. The older you get, the more you recognize you have just so many days left on this planet: my work must continue!

    You 3? are fantastic. xo

  5. One year my aunt sent out her real Christmas letters to friends...but to the family, she sent a fake one. It was the most hilarious, boastful, truth-stretching thing I have ever read. (yes, she meant it to be that way) I wish she would send one every year.

  6. I had a great aunt that used to do these letters. Can't say anyone from generations since have done them, even though we can all read and write. Maybe this is part of the reason we DON'T do them. That and nobody gives a hoot.

  7. Mine would say: No one got pregnant or arrested. Here's to more of the same in the New Year! That's not bragging right? ; )

  8. I am giggling b/c I've never even heard of such. I think it would be funny to write one like From Tracie's aunt. And Mom of the Perpetually Grounded, that most certainly is not bragging. Where I'm from, that's called luck. :o)

  9. Amazing...some have never heard of them, and some of us have heard enough of them.
    They are an interesting creature.

  10. Oh my gosh, YES! I HATE these letters. I have never ever read one that wasn't total, unabashed BRAGGING. I read them out loud to people so that we can all roll our eyes, too!

  11. I have never heard of these.
    I will say this though - I'll be sending out a bunch of them next year. I need to practice my "truth stretching."

    The phone calls I'll get in return should be very entertaining!

  12. I've *maybe* received 3 of these tedious letters in my life. I have friends who live life. Not write about it.

  13. I thought Facebook had rendered the Christmas Letter obsolete?

  14. I am writing a Christmas letter this year.

    It begins something like this: "Dear Friends and Family, I am writing a holiday letter for the very first time this year. I have succumbed to the madness because for the last several years in a row, I have purchased boxes of lovely holiday cards, with all the best intentions of hand-writing messages to you all, and then gotten overwhelmed with end-of-semester grading, holiday preparations, and general life business, so that I never sent out anything at all (which I suppose you know, since you didn't get a holiday card from me). So, this year, the update is less personal than a hand-written note--but at least it has the benefit of making it into the mailbox." (Well, it will begin this way, once I actually write it. I'm still waiting for the photo I ordered to arrive.)


  15. PS I'm a cheapskate, and we've done a holiday photo card this year of the kids, so I'm writing a letter that I can print on a HALF sheet of paper, thereby cutting the printing costs in half. I feel the need to include the letter because half of our extended family doesn't even know what grades our kids are in anymore. If I stick to things like "Q took a hip hop class last year, where he learned to dance with more enthusiasm than skill," I feel I won't offend. But am I misguided? Should I really just include the photo card? Is even a half-page letter somehow over-achiever-y if it's included with a photo card? I seriously need advice about this, since I used to only send out hand written holiday cards, only to people out of town with whom I really wanted to catch up, so this is a whole new genre for me.

  16. I want to do a hilarious one that just ticks off all the shitty things that happened over the course of the year - it's therapeutic and entertaining. RIGHT?

    We don't do these in my family, but I kind of want to.

    PS I have gotten one or two from the husband's family, and I also get very judgy about poor grammar and spelling. Because I am bitchy.

  17. I never thought about it that way but I see your point! We usually always got those from family so it never seemed like bragging. But I confess to skimming the letters and ditching, as opposed to lovingly storing them in a perfumed box.

  18. I love that you've taken on this topic!

    I just received a two page one from my aunt and uncle regaling us with details of their international travels and how fabulous and brilliant and perfect their children (my cousins) and their grandchildren are. I usually just laugh it off, but I think you make a great point: I can't imagine how their boasts would sound to someone who's having a hard time this year.

    There's definitely a fine line between sharing news and bragging - and these folks are always well into the bragging camp!

  19. Thank you! This really needed to be said. We get a letter from a certain family that claims most of the examples you cited here, phds and all. And what I really hate is when they try to camouflage the bragging with complaining. That? Is the worst.

  20. Amen, sistah. Seriously. The "be sensitive to your audience" suggestion in particular is one that can't be shouted from the rooftops enough. Everyone really needs to relax and remember who they are talking to. There's nothing that stings more than hearing the "guess who just got engaged" talk when I visit the folks or the "this one just popped out baby #5" or "my daughter just scored a great job in publishing! Maybe you're not looking in the right places??"

    I've become pretty good at letting things slide and pouring myself another when any of these topics is brought up in casual conversation however. It's been effective so far, I suppose.

    A very merry Christmas to you and yours, Empress! Hope your holidays are happy and bright.

  21. i've only gotten two this year--and they were the most matter of fact, no embellishment letters i've ever read. like: "this is what i did this year. the end." somewhat like a 6th grade book report. So i think you have to also add, if you don't want to write it, DON'T.

  22. I've written holiday Christmas letters a few times. My letters all feature obvious half truths and fabrications. It's good to end the letter with a list of lessons learned that highlights all the stupid mistakes w've made throughout the year.

  23. Instead of sending out a letter (which, actually, I've always been too lazy and depressed to send anyway), I want to just send everyone a link to this post.


  24. I would hazard a guess, that after this post, I won't be getting any holiday letters.

    It's all right...

  25. Haha- yes!
    Can I send you a letter with every shitty thing that's happened this year? Because times are tough, and we can't afford my therapist.

  26. I love getting the ones that rhyme and wax poetically about dad's raise, the 12 vacations, the new ski chalet, little Susy's boob job.
    They make me laugh and laugh and laugh. They spread plenty of holiday cheer-just not in the intended manner.

  27. I think a chorus of angels just sang "Amen" when this post published. Just a hunch. (And Kablooey's comment up there? Had me laughing out loud and having to explain myself.)

  28. I am so thankful that I haven't received one of these this year. There is one family that sends them out and I am hoping we are not on their list this year. They are not even friends. They are my brother-in-laws sister and her family. Annoying!

    Oh and the fact that you referenced "Sliding Doors" which is one of my all-time favorite movies just makes me love you even more. I didn't think that was possible!

  29. (raising hand) - um...I've never actually gotten a Christmas Letter. Ever. And I don't ever remember my mother getting one either. I don't think I know anyone who's ever gotten one. And I feel kind of cheated...

    But I will say this, if I ever got one that didn't follow any of your rules, I'd have a party specifically to go through a few bottles of wine & read and rip apart the entire letter.

    :) By the way, you're fabulous!

  30. The first time I received a Christmas letter, I thought it was such a cool and creative idea. Although I admitted that it was a tad long and I didn't really bother to read it, I liked the design, the pictures that person included, and the "year's summary" idea behind it.

    But ahem, yeah, when people started sending me a lot of Christmas letters (seriously, people have too much time on their hands these days lol), my initial positive reaction had weathered away somehow. So much so that I'm pretty sure I prefer 'short and sweet' in my mailbox.

    Can't agree with you more on the topic of bragging. I can sniff it from miles away. Ugh.

  31. Oh my god. This is hilarious. Thank you for saying something. I can't believe you said this...I hate these letters. We make fun of them.

    I love you!!!


  32. You know how you can send an email with a bcc: and no one knows who else got the email? I want a way to bcc: myself as sender and send this post to 6 specific people. One of them once sent a holiday letter where the narrator was...wait for it...Rocky the Raccoon, sitting outside on a tree limb and totally astounded at how much STUFF this happy family was putting into their new house! So much! They must have had a wonderful year!

    I was retching by paragraph 3.

  33. Fantastic advice ~ both the funny and the serious.

    I got roped into writing a holiday poem years ago and always feel a little queasy each year when my family requests another one.

    Maybe it's just so they can sit around with pinot grigio making fun of me??? But I do try to adhere to the rules you've got above.

    Especially the self-deprecation. EGREGIOUS self-deprecation, if you will. There are no squirrels peeking in our windows at the joy.

    So thank you for the PSA. And for an incredible year of friendship and support.

    And a merry Christmas to you and everyone you love.



  34. p.s. Next year, I'm just sending out MOOOOOOG35's holiday letter. Now that I can get behind.

  35. Oh how I love you, my Empress. You seem to have struck quite a nerve with this one.

    I have only one person I ever get these from - a cousin I rarely see who has a PERFECT family of talented (and now fertile) children and oh, they go snorkeling in Hawaii every year and he's a tennis champ and on and on and on. And I think about how his brother has had struggles with mental illness and joblessness and has in general had so much less of a charmed life than golden boy here, and wonder how he feels about these braggadocio letters.

    Actually I have another friend who sends out a letter - but he's a flamboyantly gay artist and playwright and his letters are HYSTERICAL dishes on the year that has just passed, endlessly entertaining and much more welcome.

    Wishing you a Happy and a Merry and a Joyous everything!

  36. You guys are all so great...like I said, I've got nothing to lose, my life is half over and I have a lot to tend to before my days on this planet are over.


  37. you know, my aunt has always written one of these . . . but it's her, her common law husband, and a bunch of cats . . . it's a well-written letter with a fair amount of humor.

    Egregious is absolutely one of my favorite words . . . but I got into a TON of trouble for using it on a test when I was teaching night computer classes.

    Aside from my aunt's letter, these letters drive me crazy. I have an aunt who adopted a child when she was 52 years old. Now, the kid is 8, and is having trouble in math. You read the letter, and it's obvious that the kid has a learning disability . . . but the aunt is just convinced the kid doesn't like math. Drives me bonkers.

    All that said, I'm totally going to start writing these letters next year.

  38. This. Is. Awesome!!!!!

    The fonts paragraph made seltzer come out of my nose! Just a side note: I don't recommend using bubbly water for nasal irrigation.

    I want to see your holiday letter!

  39. Also - please don't have your dog, cat, hamster, snake, or any damn pet write your damn letter. UNFOLLOW!

  40. This was so awesome! I had to tweet it out. My favorite part was the 8-dollar word. Egregious. Egregious. Egregious. Yep. Don't use it. Ha! You are so, so, so spot on with every single one of these points!

  41. Oh this is the best. THE best because I just opened a letter from my husband's coworker's dog. Yes, his dog. Single spaced, .5 inch margins, from the dog.

  42. See? I knew it. We all hate these. Someone has to say something. Really, are the ones bragging NOT aware they are bragging??

    They gotz to know, I mean, right?? I know it when I see it, maybe they don't?

    Mysteries of life.


  44. whew.... good thing I didn't write one! Honestly, I've never written one. I figure if someone wants to know what's going on in my life they'll call me.

  45. Hahahaha....where can I link my Christmas card rant to this post?

    p.s. freakin' love your $4 dollar word.

  46. After I came back from the other room screaming, I thoroughly enjoyed the rest of your post :-) I wish everyone would take these pointers into consideration -- might make the holidays a less anxiety-ridden time.

  47. Do I have anything to add...I hate being late to a party..esp one like this???

    I fing hate those letters...HATE them!!! I will never write one (want to know about me read my blog!! LOL) and I hate getting them...to me it's always bragging..you are not going to put crappy news in those letters so all of it is "this is what is going on with us....and it's all good!".

    I adored this post sweetie....it made me feel like I am not the only freak that really needs these letters to stop...maybe we can start a petition ;)

  48. Dare I....Do I...

    could it ever come to be??

    A STOP to the Holiday letter???

  49. I had no idea people sent holiday letters.
    This makes me want to bring it back but it a snarky sarcastic form that only I can do.
    No gloating from me. No sir.
    Only potty talk and elf on the shelf mischief

  50. Someone mentioned getting one from the dog? Hilarious! I have an ex-co-worker that still sends one to my best friend (we all worked together - heh) and I have to admit that my BF and I get together after the holidays to drink wine and read the letter aloud.

    One year she wrote it from the cat's perspective. We howled for hours reading that one. The restaurant's security was on standby if I remember correctly.

    Aaaaah! You just have to laugh right? And appreciate the entertainment value.

    Empress - your points are so perfect and this PSA should be part of Holiday Planning 101.

    smooches dear friend and Merry Christmas



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