Today I will begin my annual ritual or writing the Muley family Christmas newsletter, which my wife and I send out to a small group of understanding and forgiving relatives and friends across the country. For some insane reason I have written a family newsletter for more than a decade now, and I had to learn the hard way how to do it. I’ve discovered through painful personal experience that just sitting down at the keyboard and typing whatever fool thing pops into your head is often a recipe for holiday disaster.
So, as my Christmas gift to you, dear readers, I offer six tips on how to avoid common mistakes in composing your Yuletide missive.
1. Well, so this Christmas there’s a new baby in your house. Wonderful! Please share the news with family and friends in your annual Christmas newsletter. But let me offer a few words of advice. Yes, your readers want to hear about the new addition, and will even indulge you if in your excitement you share some detailed minutiae, such as weight, length, eye and hair color, dimple presence and other common features. But there is such a thing as going too far. By all means, include nothing whatsoever about your little one’s bowel movements (including color, consistency or frequency) or any details about his or her breastfeeding. There should be no mentions of infant rashes, warts, scabs or pustules, and no descriptions of recent illnesses involving technicolored phlegm or mucous, projectile vomiting or uncontrollable slobbering. If you must relate these embarrassing details, save them for the parents’ toast at your child’s wedding.
2. It’s okay to mention in a Christmas newsletter that you have separated from a spouse or partner (this will allow recipients to return at least one gift they might have bought for a welcomed refund), but it is considered quite bad form to use descriptive words such as “weasel,” “vermin,” “slimeball,” “scumbag” or phrases such as “toad-licking two-timer” in your prose. By the same token, it is frowned upon to describe in detail the physical deficiencies of the recently replaced, or share their personal information with your readers, such as your ex’s Social Security, PIN and credit card numbers, the location and passwords of hidden assets and embarrassing nicknames from childhood.
3. Did you take a family vacation this past year? This is prime source material for a Christmas newsletter entry. But in describing your journey, brevity should be your rule. Let readers know where you and your family traveled, the highlights of what you saw, and share any amusing stories that you know will be told for years to come anyway, such as when you dropped your new $1,000 camera down the Grand Canyon and your wife yelled at you for being an idiot in front of all those other people on the donkey trail. But please –– no detailed descriptions of routes taken, hotels and motels stayed in, restaurants visited or souvenirs purchased. Also, don’t include unwanted statistical data, such as the average miles per gallon achieved during your trip, comparisons of unleaded gas prices over five states, quantities of amenities in hotel rooms, and the length of time spent in lines for popular amusement park rides, as opposed to the unrealistically shorter times listed in the guidebooks.
4. If you or any members of your family suffered a serious ailment during the past year and are still here to tell about it, by all means let your readers know that you survived swine flu, or that little Bobby is totally healed from the broken leg he got after riding the pogo stick on the roof. But please, consider your readers. Avoid any in-depth discussions of medications and dosages, and even if physical ailments are mentioned, avoid the urge to include color photographs of incision scars or allergic reactions.
5. Financial solicitations, even if couched as offering a “business opportunity” to invest in gold or junk bonds or chinchilla ranches, or offers to sell anything, especially dubious items such as Dallas Cowboys playoff tickets or autographed copies of the Letters of Paul, are no-nos. Even appeals to buy items sold by your children, such as Girl Scout cookies or lifetime subscriptions to Grit, can come back to haunt you.
6. Finally, if you want to include a recent photo of you and the family with your newsletter, feel free. It’s a good way to let friends and family see just how much the kids have grown, and just how much older, balder and fatter you and your spouse have gotten since the last photo. But remember, almost everyone you send this to has access to both a photo scanner and the Internet. So, if you do something squirrelly like pose in antlers and matching reindeer sweaters, or dress up as characters from “A Christmas Carol,” be prepared to find that your family has earned a prominent place on websites like Awkward Family Photos that feature such goofy Yuletide poses. And remember, the Internet is forever.
(For a great musical performance touching on some of these themes, go here.)