How to Become a Christmas Letter Legend

I’m sitting down to write the Anthony family Christmas letter today. Why do you care? Because I’m a Christmas Letter Legend (as proof, I just created that title with capital letters and all). I’ve spent 20 years mastering the art of long-form tidings, and it may be all I have to show for my life when I die. So, in the seasonal spirit of giving, I want to teach everyone how to become a Christmas Letter Legend, too. 

For a Limited Time Only, I’m sharing my secrets. Take notes. This process never fails.

Step One: Engage in a healthy dose of self-examination by asking yourself these four, time-tested questions. Your answers will be your own, of course, but if you're honest, they’ll sound word-for-word like mine. 

1) Oh, crap. Do I have to write this? 
Yes. Get over yourself. You can watch Grey’s Anatomy reruns tomorrow.

2) Does anyone care?
No. Everyone you know is just as boring as you are. Everyone has to make a living. All kids/grandkids/dogs are a year older. You don’t write a Christmas letter to show people how interesting you are. You write it to prove you’re not dead.

3) How honest can I be? I don’t want to sound like I’m bragging.
Face it. There are only four personas available to the Christmas letter writer: Boastful, Boring, Brainless, or Bitter. You’re gonna end up in one of those categories whether you like it or not, so you may as well be intentional. Personally, I aim for Bitter; it’s the most comedy-rich, and honestly, how else can you admit to the fact that you tried to meditate this morning, but all you could think about was chicken salad?

4) Why do I have to do this?
Have you been listening to me at all? Move on.


Step Two: Create an outline. Here’s my template; feel free to steal it.

Paragraph 1: Open with a smile. Everything is great! Make readers feel warm and fuzzy in the first paragraph; that way they’re less likely to send your husband an email expressing “concern for Gretchen’s mental health” after you get real in paragraph three.

Paragraph 2: Sum up your year with a humble brag. My father was the master of this one. One year he wrote that the highlight of my mother’s year was “getting a new can opener.” Consider the rich subtext of that statement. It says We can afford new things without saying I have so much stuff that I don’t need to earn as much money as I do. It says I put my wife’s needs first without saying Yeah, I’m being an ass and she’s going to tell me that as soon as she reads this. It says Your life is boring, too without saying Your life is boring, too.

Paragraph 3: Get real. Every real journalist buries the lede* (*nope, not a typo). People can’t handle the fact that you recently discovered your gluten intolerance in paragraph one. You gotta hold on to that piece of gold until readers are too invested to quit. My big reveal this year is that I finally like my children. My people will be ready to hear that by the time they get to paragraph three.

Paragraph 4: Prove they don’t have to worry about you. Just when you’ve got people wondering about your stability, paragraph four is the time to throw them off-scent. Your letter is almost wrapping up at this point, so throw in a happy coincidence like, for example, how you learned that you were a finalist for the MacArthur Genius Grant when you were already late for therapy because you couldn’t find your keys. 

Paragraph 5: Close with a bright future. Next year will be better. It has to be. Right?


Step Three: Don’t look back. Shove those letters in the envelopes. It’s December 23rd, and the mailman is a block away.

A few final tips:

  • Don’t forget that if you want to be a Christmas Letter Legend, your number one goal is to write a letter that gets talked about. The bigger, the odder, the better. No one remembers a wallflower, but they do remember the chick who walked up to that wallflower and slapped her across the face.
     
  • Aim for being a letter that inspires people to read it aloud. Growing up, my family received an annual Christmas letter so braggadocios, so over the top, that my father and I took to performing it aloud in our living room. Those letters, in turn, inspired my last novel. Don’t you want to be in my next book?
     
  • Go ahead and lie. You can’t achieve any of this without stretching the truth just a smidge.

Finally and most important!
If you want to become a Christmas Letter Legend, DO NOT SHARE these tips with anyone, lest you blow your cover.

And hey, if you take me up on any of this advice this year, I want to read it! Send me your letters via email, Facebook, Instagram, or Pony Express.

Minnesota-based writer and ghostwriter. Read her and meet her at GretchenAnthony.com.