Sure, I know. The holidays are busy and you’ve got a jillion A-list parties to attend. No wonder you can’t send out your usual handwritten letters to everybody. Well, neither can I. The bloom wore off after the thousandth recipient complained that I had handwriting similar to a drunk chicken’s scratchings and wouldn’t I please just type letters like everybody else? OK, OK, I said, tired of being unappreciated. I’ll send out mass holiday letters just like everybody else.
But, voila. Out of this searing disappointment came a new expertise: I can now advise the rest of you on writing holiday letters. After seeing too many of them badly done, I realized it was time for a few rules. Namely:
1) Don’t use too many exclamation points. If you do, people will think you’re panting — which might be evidence you’ve fallen off your rehab wagon once again.
2) It’s a hard economic time for many people this season. If you’ve climbed Kilimanjaro and you have the photos to prove it, you might consider keeping the news to yourself because a) nobody cares, except your travel agent; and b) you’ll look like a dick if you send the photo of yourself grinning and preening in the snow. If you have to talk about mountaintops, keep them metaphorical this year.
3) If you’re a Republican and find yourself deeply disappointed by the November elections, make sure you only complain to other bitter Republicans on your holiday list. Your heartbreak will just make Democrats gloat even more. Besides, don’t you want to spend your time getting together with the other members of the Draft Sarah Palin movement in your community? To hell with holiday cards! You’ve got wounds to heal.
4) Do not, under any circumstances, write about pets “who think they’re people.”
5) Try not to write in the third person, unless you’re running for political office or have been officially diagnosed with multiple-personality syndrome.
6) Disguise your bragging when necessary by leavening it with self-deprecation or other-deprecation. BAD EXAMPLE: Nigel got his second Pulitzer in three years!!! BETTER EXAMPLE: After bailing Nigel out of jail for his third public intoxication case this fall, we were both pleasantly surprised when he received another journalism prize.
7) Ditto your bragging about your kids. BAD EXAMPLE: Harriet got into Yale this year! Oh, and did I mention she was a National Merit scholar? BETTER EXAMPLE: Although Harriet was widely known as the biggest slut in high school, she did manage to gain admission to an Ivy.
This lets other parents known that you, too, have had your problems with your own progeny. It will also lead them to suspicions about how, exactly, Harriet managed to gain admission to Yale.
8) Finally, if you’re being funny or ironic, don’t follow a statement with “Ha!” or a smiley face. If you have to stoop to devices like this, you might question a) whether you should be writing to people who don’t get your jokes or b) whether you’re really that funny in the first place.
Happy holidays! Ha!
(Copyright 2008 by Ruth Pennebaker)