Don’t you love all the extra mail the month of December normally brings with it? It’s fun to open all the pretty Christmas cards and see the family photos, but I especially enjoy reading the newsy letters that are often included.
Sending such newsy letters is one of our family’s longest standing holiday traditions. Not only do our annual Christmas updates help us keep in touch with distant family and friends, but they also provide an easy way to chronicle our family history and to share Christ/give testimony to God’s faithfulness.
- “Bless the LORD, my soul, and do not forget any of His benefits.” – Psalm 103:2
- “Remember the wonders [the LORD] has done, His marvels, and the judgments He has pronounced.” – 1 Chronicles 16:12
- “We will not hide them from their children but will declare to the next generation the praises of the LORD and His might, and the wonders He has performed. – Psalm 78: 4
- Episode 19: Amazing Stories of God’s Provision
- Glad Tidings: my book, which includes the first 25 Years of the Flanders Family Christmas letters, along with a few favorite family recipes, traditions, quotes, and ideas for fully celebrating the season
- How to Write a Christmas Letter People Want to Read: includes tips, patterns, templates, samples, and even free printable stationery
- More of our Family Christmas Letters: a full listing of all the annual updates we’ve sent family and friends in years past
- Our Christmas Card Assembly Line: a listing of all the various “jobs” each child does to help
- Subscribe: Flanders Family Freebies -(weekly themed link lists of free resources)
- Instagram: follow @flanders_family for more great content
- Family Blog: Flanders Family Home Life (parenting tips, homeschool help, lots of free printables!)
- Marriage Blog: Loving Life at Home (encouragement in your roles as wife, mother, believer)
Transcript: Why Our Family Still Sends Christmas Cards & Letters
We’ve been mailing our annual Flanders Family update for 36 years now. I’m the one who actually puts pen to paper and drafts the letter (which some people on our list don’t realize, since I normally write it in third person). But the whole family is involved in the process.
We all love to reminisce in that last way. The anecdotes trigger all sorts of fond memories which are in turn relived and discussed at length.
It’s a great way for our younger kids to learn their family history. It allows them to glimpse what their older siblings were like growing up. And it cements into their hearts and minds stories of God’s provision and faithful watch-care over our family for decades.
So that is one of the reasons I write these letters in the first place:
Not only do our annual Christmas updates help us keep in touch with distant family and friends, but they also provide an easy way to chronicle our family history and to share Christ/give testimony to God’s faithfulness.
That last point is something believers are commanded by Scripture to do:
Psalm 103:2 tells us, “Bless the LORD, my soul, and do not forget any of His benefits.”
1 Chronicles 16:12 implores us to “Remember the wonders [the LORD] has done, His marvels, and the judgments He has pronounced.”
And Psalm 78: 4 declares, “We will not hide them from their children but will declare to the next generation the praises of the LORD and His might, and the wonders He has performed.
I’ll include a link in the show notes, but do you remember all those amazing stories of God’s provision I shared in Episode 19? The reason I could so easily recall most of those stories is because they were written down and recorded in our past Christmas letters.
Interestingly, as our family grew, my reasons for writing our annual Christmas letters changed. I found myself writing not so much to inform, but to remember. Although I continued to share what I’d written with our family and friends, I was really writing for myself.
The letters allowed me to freeze those moments in time that I wished never to forget–significant milestones, everyday graces, hard-learned lessons, crazy mistakes, funny remarks. I wrote down the things that made me think or smile or laugh or cry, the things I wanted to treasure in my heart and to ponder for years to come.
It was a subtle shift, really, but it elicited an unexpected response. This willingness to share our foibles, to laugh at ourselves, to be sincerely vulnerable, allowed others to connect with us in a way that a brag sheet could never do. I guess it made our family more real and more accessible, because we began to get requests for extra copies of our updates.
Never mind that most of our letters were four pages long–people were passing them around the dinner table, forwarding them to friends, saving them in three-ring binders. I had one friend tell me that her husband insisted on reading the entire thing aloud at his office party one Christmas. We even received postcards from complete strangers, asking to be put on our mailing list.
It was really bizarre.
But it explains why, when I decided to publish the first twenty-five Flanders Family Christmas letters in a book to give our kids and grandkids, my husband urged me to make copies available to people outside our family, as well. Interested? I’ll include a link to that book in today’s show notes.
If you’ve ever thought about sending such a letter to your own friends and family at Christmastime, but haven’t known where to start, this podcast is for you!
I’d like to share some helpful Tips for Writing Your Own Christmas Letter. And I’ll put a link in the show notes to a blog post I’ve written on the topic that includes:
- Samples – Pick a style that suits your family’s personality!
- Patterns – Follow any given example to create a letter all your own.
- Stationery – Print out our papers out to make it pretty.
- Encouragement – Writing Christmas letters is one holiday tradition you’ll be glad you adopted!
Of course, the style or pattern or stationery you use doesn’t really matter in the long run — the important thing is just to write something every year. If you’ll do this consistently, before you know it, you’ll have a detailed family history, just like we do.
The lengths of your letter might vary from a few phrases to a few pages. Some may feel too short, other may seem too long, but keep trying, and (like Goldilocks) you’ll eventually find a style that’s just right — and suits your family perfectly!
Christmas Letter Styles & Patterns
My husband insists I could save a lot of time by simply creating a fill-in-the-blank template, then shifting all our children’s names up a space every year:
“This year, baby _____ joined the family. ___ learned to ride a bike. ___ broke a bone and/or got stitches. ______ won the best competitor award at the East Texas State fair, ______ graduated from high school, ____ finished college, and ___ got married.”
While I admit that could be a great time saver, it would also be a boring and monotonous read. So instead, I normally write a Month-by-Month Christmas Letter.
Month-by-Month Christmas Letter
It’s a pattern I’ve followed for 36 years now. I’ll be posting this year’s letter on our blog later this week, but I’ll include a link in today’s show notes in case you’d like to read samples of our Christmas letters from previous years.
Basically, I just pen one paragraph for each month, detailing the highlights of our year.
Although I don’t begin writing my letter in earnest until October, I’ll occasionally jot notes to myself about funny stories or significant events I want to be sure to include. I keep all such notes in a single file in Evernote and add to it as the year progresses.
But sometimes I make it all the way to October and that Evernote file is still empty. In that case, I just look over my daily calendar for the past 12 months and browse through all the photos I’ve taken on my phone during that same time. Both these practices are a great way to jog your memory when the time comes to write about what your family has been up to for the past year.
Since I pack a lot of information into our annual updates, they are consistently four pages long. Keep in mind that I’m writing about a LOT of people, though (2 parents, 12 children, and 5 daughters-in-law, plus 20 grandkids who often warrant at least a mention).
If your family is much smaller, your letter will probably be much shorter.
I print our letters on plain white copy paper, two double-sided sheets, and mail them in embellished envelopes — more on that in a minute.
These days, I usually order Christmas cards with photos printed on both sides – a shot of our whole family on the front, and individual photos of each of our married children with their families on the back plus one of Mom & Dad with the kids who are still single and/or are living at home.
But when we first started sending our annual updates, I just used self-sealing business envelopes along with a 4×6 copy of our most recent family photo (which I order through snapfish for a penny a piece.
Since we usually mail our Christmas letters over Thanksgiving weekend, my month-by-month account normally runs from December of the previous year through November of the current year (rather than January through December). Here’s a sample month from last year’s update:
“Most of our grandkids joined us for our annual trek to San Antonio last December. In addition to making many sweet memories together, Jennifer got a refresher on the importance of staying alert to one’s surroundings when she found herself alone in an elevator with a big burly dude built like a linebacker. He seemed friendly enough as they made small talk, but she grew increasingly nervous when he stepped off the elevator behind her and followed her to the far end of the hallway. There, still chatting away, she fumbled with her key and found it had quit working. “Ummm,” the linebacker hesitated, perplexed, “I think that’s my room.” And so it was. Jennifer had accidentally gotten off on the wrong floor! “Well,” he laughed good-naturedly once she explained her mistake, clearly relieved to learn he wasn’t being stalked by some crazy lady, “thanks for seeing me safely to my door.”Excerpted from the 2022 Flanders Family Update
If trying to arrange the year’s memories in chronological order, month-by-month, is too much to ask or stresses you out, no worries! I several simpler ideas you cam try.
Person-by-Person Christmas Letter
Devote one paragraph to each member of the family and describe the highlights of the year from that person’s perspective. If your children are old enough, you might even ask each of them to pen their own paragraph, then string them all together to make your family’s annual update.
Christmas-Themed Acrostic Letter
This is the pattern my sister has always followed, and I love it! She’s a schoolteacher, so her acrostic spells CHRISTMAS and usually has an overarching theme, with an introductory “C” paragraph and a closing “S” paragraph, but that’s just her meticulous personality shining through.
You can easily adapt this acrostic pattern to suit your own style, and even change the vertical word to something besides “CHRISTMAS” if you’d prefer. It’s short and to the point, but packs a lot of information in those few brief paragraphs. If you’d like to see a sample of what her letter looks like – or any of the other patterns I’ve mentioned – I’ll include a link in today’s show notes where you can compare all the different styles and even download free printable stationery for making your own acrostic update.
Multiple-Choice Christmas Letter
Of all the Christmas letters our family receives each year, one of our favorites to read is from some friends who structure their letter like a pop quiz.
“It’s 4 AM and somebody is screaming. Is it (a) the baby, who still hasn’t learned to sleep through the night, although she has finally moved to her own crib after eight months in bed between Mom and Dad. (b) Mom and Dad, who were rudely awakened when a pipe unexpectedly burst upstairs and dumped multiple gallons of cold water on them in their sleep. (c) Beau, who woke up in the night for a drink of water and saw what looked like an alien standing on top of the barn peering through her window. (d) Rebekah, whose pet squirrel — the one she’s been feeding every two hours around the clock — just broke her heart by dying in her arms. Would you believe God sent a replacement within 24 hours?”
Each paragraph details what’s going on at a different time of day:
- “It’s 8 AM, and someone is rushing out the door…”
- “It’s 10 AM, and someone is dancing for joy…”
- “It’s 12 PM, and somebody’s feeling nervous…”
And so it continues, front and back of a double-sided print on red or green colored paper. And the answer key is always the same: all of the above. I’ve included a sample done in this style in the aforementioned link, so check today’s show notes if you’re interested.
Bullet Point Christmas Letter
And, simplest of all, you might want to try a Bullet Point List.
We have a few friends who are able to pack a whole year’s worth of news into a handful of bullet points. Their updates are so brief, in fact, that they fit on the back of a postcard — which also saves on postage.
If you plan to mail this kind of Christmas card in an envelope, you can include more photos on the reverse along with your brief update, or choose a two text box layout and leave the right side blank for addresses if you want to mail them as postcards.
However you choose to do it, I do hope you’ll make sending annual updates a part of your family routine — but don’t feel like you have to send them at Christmas. We have friends that send their yearly letters out before Thanksgiving, and others whose updates don’t roll in until New Year’s, Valentine’s, or even Easter.
The important thing is that you take time to write down your family’s history. When and with whom you share it once it’s written is entirely up to you.
And for a fun way to put it all together once you’re through? Check out our ideas for staging a Christmas card assembly line. Our kids look forward to doing this every year.
Our Family Christmas Letters
Need some more concrete examples of Christmas letter written in a style that keeps a reader’s interest? Then get a copy of Glad Tidings, a compilation of our first 25 years of Christmas letters. It also includes a few favorite recipes, seasonal quotes, time-saving tips, and fun family traditions. Volume 1 is on sale now (we’re hoping to release Volume 2 in the year 2037).
Our family sends out a lot of Christmas cards each year, and getting them ready to mail is a joint effort. We set up shop at a long table and churn them out in fast order. Every member of the family is given a task.
As our family has grown, we’ve had to manufacture extra “jobs” for the assembly line, so that even the youngest members can take part.
Most of our little ones are now in charge of stamps and stickers. One will put large stickers on the back of the envelope, another will put small stars on the front. One will rubber stamp with red ink, another will use a different stamp with green, and yet another will use a tiny, self-inking stamp that says “Merry Christmas.”
We usually listen to Christmas music while we work and have hot cocoa once we’re done. Even our college kids still love to help and ask us to assemble on a night they can participate — usually over Thanksgiving break.
This year, we were about two weeks later than usual getting our cards in the mail, due to an unforeseen delay at the printers. And our assembly line didn’t have quite as many participants as normal, thanks to the fact a couple of our kids were sick at the time, and my husband banned them from handling the letters we’d be sending to family and friends so that we didn’t unwittingly pass along any nasty germs or viruses along with our annual updates.
Several years ago, I smiled to hear one of my children say emphatically, “It’s a good thing we have so many helpers in this family. Can you imagine how long it would take one person to do all this alone?”
He was too young to know that there was once a time (over 35 years ago) when Mom did do the job alone (minus the stars, stickers, and ink stamping). I stuffed and addressed all the envelopes by hand and sent them unembellished.
But the task is a lot more fun now that we do it together!
Christmas Card Assembly Line Tasks
Here’s how our job assignments are currently broken down:
- Put return address labels on envelopes
- Affix postage stamps to envelopes
- Emboss envelope flap with Monogram seal
- Put small stickers on front of envelope
- Put large sticker on back of envelope
- Rubber stamp envelope with red ink
- Rubber stamp envelope with green ink
- Use small self-inking stamps
- Affix foil stars to the envelope
- Add a strip or two of washi tape to front of envelope
- Put labels on backs of photos
- Fold Christmas letters
- Stuff letters and photos into envelopes
- Address envelopes (we print out recipients’ address labels, too)
- Add handwritten notes as desired – this has always been my job
- Seal envelope (we normally use self-sealers, so nobody gets stuck licking 200+ envelopes) and place finished letter in mail bucket
We rotate jobs several times during the course of the evening, and we always pray for the recipients when we drop the letters at the post office.
Our Christmas card assembly line is still one of my family’s favorite traditions. Our adult children often plan their visits home to coincide with this annual envelope stuffing event — bringing grandkids with them (who also want to help). So our envelopes keep getting more and more elaborately decorated with every passing year!
So, that wraps up today’s podcast. To sum it all up, our family still sends Christmas letters every year for three main reasons:
- To chronicle our family history.
- To keep in touch with distant family and friends.
- To share Christ/give testimony to God’s faithfulness.