Growing up in my family, sending out a holiday letter was a big deal. We never sent out a typical greeting card with "Silent Night" lyrics or a casual family picture that we snapped the week before. In addition to the carefully chosen photograph that was selected from the masses, the holiday letter chronicled the most memorable details from our busy year. More specifically, it was the time my dad would attempt to outdo his letter from the last year and incorporate more jokes and humor than ever before, most often highlighted in the introduction. Some of my greatest memories involved laughing hysterically as we sifted through letters past to generate inspiration and improvements for the upcoming letter.
Since I was the writer of the family and also happened to be the fastest typist, there was a point in my childhood when my parents asked if I'd like to help write the holiday letter. I accepted the offer and would sit in front of the computer screen as my dad dictated his thoughts aloud beside me. He would speak, I would type, we would laugh and then erase, over and over until the letter was nearly perfect. Before sending it out for printing, it was imperative that the letter be handed out to our immediate family, with each person able to modify the designated paragraph about themselves to best highlight their year. Everyone had a say-so, with each member providing input and changes. The family holiday letter was truly a family experience.
Not only do I have fond memories of the holiday letter season, but I am continually reminded of the value in the process. Allowing your children to participate in your holiday letter writing does the following:
1. It promotes self-reflection. Kids are encouraged to think about the year, reflect on what has happened, and remember what they have accomplished. During a time when school is in session, activities are in full gear and the holiday break is near, you can help provide the space for your children to step back, take a breath and think back to all of the meaningful experiences they've had this past year.
2. It encourages creative writing. Not only are basic writing skills developed in this activity, like letter format, editing and paragraph organization, but trying to come up with the most creative introduction is a fun task that can be an exciting game for kids. More important, being able to easily develop creative and inviting hooks is a unique skill that is invaluable to their success in school and business. Encouraging that type of exploration in writing, as well as making writing fun for kids, is essential for their future.
3. It makes them feel valued. Think about it: you are about to mail a letter about their whole year out to everyone you know around the world and to your kids, that's huge. When you include them in that process and specifically ask for their opinions, it makes them feel pretty darn special to know they are worthy enough to help. Kids will then believe that their voice matters to you; that can increase their self-confidence and strengthen the bond you have with your children.
4. It sparks communication. By asking your kids to speak up about what should be included in the letter, it gives you easy access to further the conversation, allowing you to talk as a family about the highs and lows of the year. Maybe ask your child what it was about a certain event that makes them want to include it or leave it out. Ask them to talk more about a particular detail of a chosen memory. You'll learn a lot about your kids and how they felt about the year, and those conversations will be even more treasured time you get to spend with them.
5. It develops trust in your relationship. When you, as the leader and parent of the family, care enough to check in with your children for a final letter approval before sending their whereabouts to the world, they feel loved and respected. Disaster could strike when a simple, silly story to you could be a dark, embarrassing secret to them. They learn that you want to support them, that you don't want to hurt or betray them and that you respect them. By doing this, your kids will trust you and believe that you care about their feelings.
I will always remember what I've learned from our holiday letters and carry it with me as my family continues to grow. To keep up with tradition and to kindly return the favor, I sent this article to my parents for review before sending it off for publication. Their response?
"Our Christmas letters are priceless," my mom answered, "unlike the gifts we have to buy for our children" added my dad. His jokes are endless!