How (and Why) to Write Compelling Holiday Letters

by Amber Lea Starfire on December 16, 2013

Aurora Borealis

‘Tis the season for sending holiday cards and letters. Personally, I love to receive these newsy letters from friends and relatives. Sure, they can be a little on the rosy side (who wants to write about life’s depressing details and send them out during the holidays for heaven’s sake!), but they display thoughtfulness and a desire to connect with me in a way that Hallmark cards with their “canned” sayings cannot. In my opinion, letters are a lovely, old-fashioned way to keep one another updated on life’s ups and downs and generalities — like a once-a-year Facebook post, on paper.

Over the years, I’ve heard people complain about holiday letters: “They’re trite,” “Their only purpose is to boast,” “Who wants to hear about little Johnny’s violin recital?” The main complaint is that they’re too shallow and don’t communicate anything meaningful. That may often be the case, but it doesn’t have to be.

This year, consider composing a holiday or New Year’s letter and sending it to those you love — a letter that shares at least one meaningful event that occurred this past year, as well as hopes and dreams for the future.

To help you get started, I offer the following writing prompts:

  1. Close your eyes, take a deep breath, and let your mind rove over the events of the past year. What stands out? Did you make life-changing decisions or moves? Did you achieve a meaningful accomplishment? Did something unexpected happen?
  2. Make a list of the events that stand out and circle those that feel most important to you.
  3. Write about each of the events you circled:
    • Describe what happened. What was the context? Who else was involved?
    • Why was the event meaningful to you? What impact did it have on your life and the lives of those closest to you?
    • What did you learn?
    • In what ways did it change you?
  4. What dreams or desires do you have for the future, and how did these events affect those dreams?

Using what you’ve written, compose a letter. Go ahead: share emotions, share dreams, share a little of who you are and what your life is really like. You don’t have to write about only the positive events— just the meaningful ones.

Who knows, maybe you’ll start a trend. And maybe next year you’ll receive a letter like this from someone you care about.

Photo by Beverly & Pack

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Barbara Toboni December 16, 2013 at 10:09 am

Good post, Amber, and good tips for next year. Unfortunately, I already sent out a holiday letter last week, but I did think about the events that stood out. I also noticed an added bonus of the letter for me. When I focus on all the good things that did happen it makes me happy.


Amber Lea Starfire December 16, 2013 at 11:42 am

Good point, Barb! Holiday letters are a great reason to focus on gratitude and all the things going well in our lives — not to mention spreading the cheer :-)


patsy ann taylor December 16, 2013 at 12:28 pm

Each year I receive two holiday letters that I actually enjoy. Both are from world travelers who are also writers. So when I open them I know there is a gift inside. These women transport through words, and I am with them on adventures I would never have on my own.
Thank you for the suggestions, Amber. Next year I may write a letter of my own.


Amber Lea Starfire December 16, 2013 at 12:49 pm

Lucky you, Patsy, to have two travel writers who write holiday letters. And it’s not too late for this year … there’s always the New Year as a reason!


Marlene Samuels December 22, 2013 at 11:39 pm

Amber- there are few blog posts I consistently look forward to reading but without doubt, yours in one of them. Regardless of the time of year, I know you will offer sage advice to writers near and far. Thank you for posting such wise suggestions!

While I do not celebrate Xmas because I’m Jewish, and truth oy Hanukkah is one of those lesser Jewish Holidays, I feel compelled to write a brief year-end update to family and friends I don’t see or speak with nearly often enough. And as you so succinctly point out, no one enjoys reading trivia about people whom they barely know or events about which they haven’t the slightest interest.

That noted, in addition to your excellent ideas, I try, always, to avoid those pitfalls I’ve read in the holiday letters I’ve received over the years – making mental notes about those I dread receiving, those I look forward to, and what qualities differentiate the two.

Thanks as always for a superb and timely post, Amber!


Amber Lea Starfire December 23, 2013 at 6:19 am

Thank you, Marlene, for your warm words. Year-end is such a great time to take stock and reach out to friends and family we don’t communicate with very often. I’m sure your practice of noting what you do and don’t like about letters you receive helps you compose interesting ones. And I’m sure your recipients appreciate your efforts. Happy New Year, Marlene.


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