It’s that time of year again when mailboxes are clogged filled with holiday letters from various friends and family, updating everyone on the various accomplishments of the past year. I seem to received a lot of these letters (I post my own online, for instance here and here) and having read many thousands of such letters, I have come to recognize certain patterns. Since it is still fairly early in December, I thought I would share my insights with you all and give you 10 simple steps for creating a holiday letter that will be the envy of all your friends.
Most of these letters start off in one of two ways. The decision on which way you start off the letter is crucial because it sets the tone for the rest of your message. In the salutation, you are addressing your audience and in letters like these, your audience is often broad and varied. The two most common variants are as follows:
- Dear Friends and Family,
- Dear Family and Friends,
I’ve listed these two salutations in order of popularity. This is a tough decision for those afraid of offending anyone. By listing “friends” before “family” you risk offending family members by relegating them to second place in the salutation. However, by listing “family” before “friends” you risk the same with your friends. One could argue that “friends and family” has a more sonorous ring to it, and feels more natural rolling off the tongue, but in these tough diplomatic situations, how something sounds is less important than the meaning it conveys.
A reasoned approach is necessary which is why I recommend addressing your letter to “Friends and Family.” Friends you can lose by offending them. Family is family no matter what. They are stuck with you and you them. In consideration of the fact that friends can be lost when family cannot, in the same sense, be lost, going with “Dear Friends and Family” is the obvious choice.
A more ambiguous (and if you ask me, somewhat cowardly) approach is to leave off the salutation all together and jump right into item #2. In this instance you single no one out so the chances of offending any one group is far less. The chance of offending all groups seems greater, however. As far as anyone can tell, with this approach, you might be addressing the dog or the pet goldfish.