December 09, 2003
They are computer-generated family newsletters that arrive with cards. They come from your aunt Barbara (who writes at length about her cats) or your old college roommate (now very successful with two brilliant children).
Holiday letters can be grouped with holiday fruitcake. Many people send them, few people like to receive them. A Grand Valley State University writing professor said letters enclosed in holiday cards are often boastful, terribly written and boring.
"They never meet the expectations they were meant to," said Mark Schaub, assistant professor of writing and interim assistant dean of International Education.
Schaub is saving the letters he receives and intends to do more research on the subject. He gave simple advice: "Don't do it."
"Usually, these letters are not very well written," he said. "Everyone wants to summarize an entire year on one page. There's often a standard template. It starts in January, then there's always a death or major surgery, then it ends with a cliché like, 'We look forward to the new year.'"
Mass personalized letters don't work for the masses, Schaub said. Instead he recommended tailoring letters to different groups of people: family and close friends, distant relatives and acquaintances. It would mean more work, Schaub acknowledged, but the results would be personal, thoughtful and, likely, well-received.
Rather than a year-in-review, Schaub suggested writing about a funny story from a family vacation, or an event that meant a lot to family members.
Schaub said his family avoids the holiday letter by creating hand-made holiday cards. For example, one year the Schaubs made potato-stamp cards.