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Published: 11/28/2004

Holiday newsletters don't have to be horrible

BY ANN WEBER
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Tim Kreps of West Toledo says he tries to keep his holiday letters short, and includes a few photos. Tim Kreps of West Toledo says he tries to keep his holiday letters short, and includes a few photos.
HIRES / BLADE Enlarge

The dog's emergency surgery may have been one of the most significant events of the year in your family, but chances are your friends don't care to read about it in your holiday newsletter.

Nor do they want to see a picture of the incision - as one well-meaning family shared in the annual missive they posted online.

Some people love to read about their friends' promotions, new houses, luxury vacations, and over-achieving children and grandchildren. Others - those with messier, more ordinary lives maybe - can't bear to open them.

In defense of form letters sent out by the dozens or hundreds to family and friends, it can be just as maddening to get a Christmas card from a distant friend with nothing more than a signature.

It's a tricky assignment for the holiday newsletter writer: to inform - selectively - without being boastful or boring. To be full of news, not full of oneself.

Glenda Miller of West Toledo - herself an occasional producer of a year-end newsletter - admitted that she and her girlfriends swap excerpts from terrible Christmas letters at their annual dessert night during the holidays. "I got one that was all about Lyme disease," Ms. Miller reported. The letter from the stricken family "went on and on about the precautions and what could happen to you. It was really horrible."

She explained that her own holiday letter is composed only in years when she's organized enough to do it, and has enough news to warrant one. Her rules: make it cheery and out-of-the-ordinary, limit it to one page, and add a personal, handwritten note on each copy.

She once used a multiple choice quiz format and gave her readers the answers in advance: "Just pick B," she wrote. Example: "In 1995, after 10 years of marriage, what major event finally occurred? A) Student loans were paid off. B) The renting Millers became home-owning Millers. C) Greg achieved his dream of playing harmonica with Blues Traveler."

In 2001, she instructed readers to "match the right Miller with each activity/interest/passion/responsibility to find out what we've been doing lately." Choices included yoga fanatic, PhD student in history, Gameboy guru, Harry Potter enthusiast, local history librarian, and knitting nut.

Taking a creative approach to holiday communications runs in the family. Ms. Miller said her parents, Barbara and Michael Garrison of Bay Village, Ohio, once put together a crossword puzzle to share their news.

Tim Kreps of West Toledo said he has sent a holiday letter to family and friends every year for 35 years. Its original purpose was to keep in touch with friends he met in Hong Kong, Japan, Taiwan, and South Korea during his travels as a college student.

Over time, the mailing list expanded: Today, 120 to 125 people all over the world receive the annual one-page Kreps newsletter, many via e-mail.

"I try to keep it short and just the major things that happened during the year. I add a few pictures and blessings of the season," Mr. Kreps said.

"So many times you get a Christmas card and it's just signed with their name," Mr. Kreps added. It's nice to know they're still alive, he observed, "but it would be nice to know what's going on."

Among the annual holiday letters he receives is one that's done in clever verse and another that uses a page of photos to present highlights of the family's year.

Tari Miller of South Toledo (no relation to Glenda Miller) said she enjoys the funny newsletters she gets from clever friends, but doesn't care so much for those that are more self-absorbed and serious.

"If it's just a recitation of successes, for a second I may think, 'Gee I'm just standing still here,' " Ms. Miller confessed. "I need my connections at Christmas with people, not my separations."

Facts can divide, while stories can unite, said Ms. Miller, who is president of the Frogtown Storytelling Guild. She advised wrapping facts in a rich context that the reader can relate to his or her own life. "If you talk about things and successes, those are yours alone. The stories are the things you all share," she observed.

So, for example, when you write about the hole-in-one you scored last summer, add some humor by relating your stumblings along the way to your triumph. Inform friends that your family cookie recipe won first prize at the fair, but also tell them the story of how it became a family favorite - and include the recipe.

When you report that your kids married and moved out this year, use the news to share the special family holiday traditions that they plan to continue in their own homes, she suggested.

That approach invites readers into your life, makes a connection, focuses on the things that make you alike rather than different, and encourages them to think about their own family lore, Ms. Miller said.

"Everybody has a story," she declared.

Keep your holiday newsletter simple, short, and personal, advised Kristin Kaufman, communications coordinator for Owens Community College. Her job includes editing the Owens Exchange, a newsletter that goes to faculty and staff. "Personally, I think people kind of walk a fine line when they send out newsletters at Christmas time," she said. They may have wonderful intentions, she said, but if the letter is too long or self-promotional it can have a negative effect on readers rather than positive.

"If I get [such] letters from close friends and family, I tend to be offended, because it makes me feel as though maybe I'm not as close as I thought we were. I feel as though I don't need a letter because I know what they've been up to," she noted.

In addition, presenting an over-the-top recitation of achievements doesn't sit well if the recipient has had a rough year, Miss Kaufman pointed out.

But if you're going to send the same preprinted letter to everyone on your holiday mailing list, she suggests keeping text to a minimum and using pictures if possible.

And include your phone number and e-mail address to make it easier to stay in touch throughout the coming year.

Contact Ann Weber at: aweber@theblade.com or 419-724-6126.



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