Saturday, December 26, 2015

Who let the grouch out?

Here's some totally unsolicited advice for people filling my mailbox with holiday cheer: If I have to use a magnifying glass to read your annual letter, you need to pick a bigger font. Let's face it: none of us are getting any younger, and while I might have been delighted decades ago to read two dense pages of 9-point faux script, these days I'm more likely to put it in the "do it later" pile, where it will sit visibly reproaching me until maybe mid-February, when I'll finally decide that all the news is out of date and toss the letter in the trash.

I confess that I hate writing our annual holiday letter, but certain persons who shall remain nameless really want the tradition to continue and are willing to perform annoying household tasks in exchange for my writing it, and certain other persons get miffed if they don't receive our annual letter, and so I comply, year after year, trying to find something interesting to say to people who, if they're really close to us, already know everything important that's happening in our lives--and if they're not really close to us, why would they care?

My strategy is to keep it simple: choose three great photos, one for the front and two for the back, and print 'em in color big enough to have an impact, and then write the letter itself in a readable font, no smaller than 12 point. I don't try to talk about everything we've done all year because, frankly, it's not that interesting. The people who send me holiday letters describing their exotic trips to Cancun or their new skydiving hobby aren't going to want to read about how many varieties of tomatoes we planted and how many hours we spent weeding the garden.

Instead, I choose a theme and mention a few interesting incidents related to the theme; this year it was all about seeking and finding, which gave me a chance to write about my granddaughter's love for turning over rocks to see what's underneath, which is way more interesting than, for instance, a list of every single lake or stream we've paddled on or all the accolades my children are earning or every little step we've undertaken in a particular home improvement projects. 

(Tell the truth: you've seen those letters, haven't you? Maybe even written them! Will you consider me a total Scrooge if I ask you to please not send them my way?)

My philosophy of holiday letters is simple: Leave them wanting more. Offer just a hint of interesting incident and move on. In the writing of annual holiday letters, as with many other indefensible but irresistible cultural practices, less is more. (Except when it comes to font size.)

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