When the printer erupts into flames, I know it’s Christmas. Every year, I run off many, many newsletters for my many, many relatives (mostly on Nate’s side of the family.) In addition to receiving the gift of spontaneous printer fires, which are great for roasting marshmallows, I can give the gift of a crisp, neat newsletter, which packs in over 800 words onto a page of 0.5-inch margins. You can just imagine how impressed my friends and family must be when they read all of those words about our lives for just one year! Yet, listing all of the accomplishments of SeaTac the cat can get tedious, because, for a cat, he really gets a lot done in a year. So, to make the newsworthy events in a family really stand out, why not just write a humorous “news-ish” letter? I’ve been doing this for at least 15 years now—ever since Alex was a baby—so even though Nate and I live far away from many of our family members, I know they’ll just cherish this gift of “news” I give them even more. I imagine they’ll gather under the Christmas Tree, crank up the tune “You’re Gonna Miss Me When I’m Gone,” and read my letter out loud while simultaneously re-creating Anna Kendrick’s -audition scene from Pitch Perfect—complete with the cups rhythms and everything. Oh, what I wouldn’t give to see that filmed and posted to YouTube!
In any case, I can’t keep my secrets all to myself, so in the spirit of giving, I’ll pass along a few tips that have raised a few eyebrows in the past—in a good way:
- Create a theme. Creating a humorous theme is easy if you have a child who holds you “prisoner” in some way. Then, you can write “Help Us, Please!” at the top of the newsletter—which is going to get a laugh right away, because no one is expecting a desperate cry for help in a festive letter. For example, when Alex was younger, he absolutely loved to draw pictures of planets. Many of these pictures were quite good, but after the 300th picture, some of them—not all of them—but some of them started to look the same. One day, he caught me trying to put one of his pictures into the trashcan and he was shocked that I would ever do such a thing. So, I ended up having to put all of the pictures onto the refrigerator with magnets. As you could imagine, our refrigerator could have doubled as the set for Star Wars by the time the year was over. However, I now had great fuel for this explosive opening paragraph from that year’s letter: “As a result of this past year, we are facing astronomical cleanup and organizing efforts. Alex has managed to paint, color, and draw literally thousands of pictures of the world, the Milky Way galaxy, colliding galaxies, planets, and our solar system. WE ARE NOT ALLOWED TO SELECT THE BEST ONES. THEY ARE ALL GREAT AND MUST ALL STAY IN PLAIN VIEW AT ALL TIMES. PLEASE HELP US.”
- Fabricate a family history that could also serve as news of a fabulous trip you took. Family historians and travel aficionados will judge your family newsletter harshly if you don’t throw in some “facts” and news about a trip you took. You could satisfy both audiences simultaneously with a “newsy” review of your family’s history, which might coincide with an educational trip. For one newsletter, I used the theme, “Plaid to the Bone” as a backdrop for discussing a zany trip to Nova Scotia, which encouraged us to suddenly desire a bevy of Kennedy tartans: “The Kennedys invaded Nova Scotia this summer. Apparently, the Kennedys have a history of doing this. Nate did some research and discovered that some Kennedys (we’re not sure which ones) came to Nova Scotia sometime before any one of us was born. Much, much later, Nathan, Alex, and Cecilia Kennedy visited. Besides the whale watching, moose gawking, and hiking, the Kennedys (Alex, Nate, and Cecilia) discovered plaid in a big, big way. They ordered several shades of the Kennedy tartan for dining room table runners and living room blankets. SeaTac, the cat, claimed all items by promptly sitting on them the minute they arrived. They have not seen the light of day since.”
- Spelling mistakes are fun ways to make your job/volunteer work sound more exciting. These days, almost no profession is safe from online trolls who leave terrible comments. Doctors, teachers, public servants, restaurant owners, and bloggers are just a few examples of people who might receive negative criticism publicly online. Your family members may have seen these comments and want to know how you’re holding up. In your Christmas newsletter, you could show them you’re “taking it all in stride” by reprinting examples of the horrible grammar and spelling your critics have used. Fictional Example: Cindulia Kennuhdee is a incompuhtent boobe. Then, just to show everyone that that you really aren’t an incompuhtent boobe, you could write about how you volunteer at the concussion (sic) stand during swim meets, selling googles (sic) and capes (sic), which competitors may have forgotten.
- Last, but not least, experiment with “all caps,” italics, and boldfaced letters. Here’s a sentence that’s not very funny at all: Honey, I locked the keys in the car and left the ice cream out on the counter—inside the locked house. Now, here’s that sentence again, done in a mixture of caps, italics, and boldfaced letters: Honey, I LOCKED, the KEYS in the car, and LEFT the ice cream out on the counter—INSIDE THE LOCKED HOUSE.
Optional: There might not be room at the top of your newsletter for a family photo, so, you could consider squeezing your passport photos into whatever is left of the margins. These photos are small, and as we all know, they are often hysterical. I know mine is. It’s just too precious. The look on my face just screams, “Is the printer burning? Is it Christmas already?”
Your Turn: Do you send Christmas cards in the mail to friends and family? Do you add a family newsletter? If you add a letter, what kind of information do you like to include each year?