Send Holiday News That's Not Such a Snooze

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Dear Friends, Family and Readers,

Happy holidays! What a year it's been. Wait, wait, wait -- keep reading! We know this appears to be one of those often-officious, spirit-wilting holiday newsletters. They come every year, always with loads to say, sometimes with photos of children losing a battle with adolescence, usually with typos, cliches and gag-worthy puns.

Things couldn't be better in the Bundy household? Great.

But seriously. Here's what's new with us, your Sunday Source family: We're a mite tired of getting these things. We don't care that Patrick passed the bar exam (just like we didn't care when he failed it last year). We don't care that you have outfits that match the fireplace you're positioned in front of. We don't care that Lily lost her first tooth, swallowed it and pooped it out in one piece.

Actually, that's pretty funny. Maybe what this holiday newsletter business needs is a bit of irreverence, or at least self-awareness.

As you can see, we're a bit humbuggy here at the Sunday Source. The past year has been brutal. Three of us got head lice. Plus, we've got Travel section reporters sitting next to us. All they do is book cruises to the tropics.

So do us a favor, and revamp your family newsletter or e-mail. Some advice:

Keep it short. The only thing more tedious than your youngest's graduation is a string of thick paragraphs dedicated to the play-by-play of the ceremony. Tell us one interesting thing about the special event and move on. Anecdotes are always better than meandering prose, and one page is always better than two. Pick three significant events, extract a quick story from them and write it up in four or five tight sentences.

Even better, forget the year's large events and build a letter out of small but important things, says Dan McGroarty, who teaches speechwriting at George Washington University and helped pen George H.W. Bush's first State of the Union address.

"In one sense, these things can be astonishingly banal, which is okay because it's wonderful that we've passed through another year unscathed," McGroarty says.

"But reporting on it at length is not necessary. Sometimes they do read like a résumé for America's most accomplished family, and that can be a little scary. Try to make virtue of the fact that the year rushes by so fast, and just try to present a handful of moments that say, 'We hope you care about this as much as we do.' "

Keep it funny. If funny is not your thing, then get a funny family member to do it. Either way, a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down. McGroarty still recalls a friend's letter from 15 years ago that had a memorable one-liner about his daughter, who had just graduated with a degree in criminal justice and "is actively exploring careers in both fields."

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2006 The Washington Post Company