There I am, soaked to the skin at the school gates when another dad comes up and says he wished he'd brought his Christmas round-robin for me to take a look at. You see, yesterday morning I was invited to preach unto them that do write such on BBC Radio Lincolnshire. At this point I should add that the dad in question who'd heard the item hadn't heard it when it went out live yesterday morning, but when it repeated at ten to seven this morning.
Anyway, having been inundated by at least one request to elaborate on my tips, here they are. And if you'd like to listen to the broadcast, here it is:
Now almost everyone has a computer Christmas letters have come into their own.
But they're not new. Years ago we used to get one of possibly the oldest examples from an elderly relative who'd type one letter at a time but with about three or four carbons copies - about the maximum you could do with an old typewriter - which meant her round robins weren't all exactly the same. And if there is a secret to writing them, that's probably it. Trying to make one letter do for everyone is where most of us are failing.
Another thing many letter writers are guilty of is going into too much detail. Some letters run into thousands of words and take almost fifteen minutes to read - at the busiest time of the year! We don't need to know that dad was asked to propose the toast again at the annual Kettering Society for the Prosecution of Felons Annual Dinner, or that he made an 'amusing' reference to the new Police and Crime Commissioners by giving his own rendition of Koko's Little List from Gilbert and Sullivan's Mikado. Especially as it probably wasn't. Amusing, that is. And even if it was we're not told so how are we to judge?
Avoid medical ailments too - completely if at all possible. As Philip Larkin (who was a great letter writer) said of misery, yours might be awful but mine is happening to me. We've all got troubles but some people seem to want to parade their woes for all to see.
But if misery is bad, joy can be even worse. Some people's live are so perfect it makes you want to scream. Try to be modest. Especially where offspring are concerned. 'Tarquin's progress on the violin continues apace. He has already completed his first solo recital and the YouTube video of him playing the Mendelssohn Concerto has gone viral...'
Don't write the letter from your pet.
Don't try to write in verse.
And above all, try to be yourself.
Finally, remember - it's not for everyone. If you're struggling, it's probably a sign that you shouldn't do one. A few handwritten lines in a Christmas card can be every bit as interesting.