Dearest Friends and Family,

Thank you all for sending me your holiday letters, which I read with great interest. In order to include the obligatory passage-of-time clause of the holiday-letter format, I will simply say it is hard to believe that another year has passed since your last letter — and almost 24 years since I sent one in return. My, how time flies.

Yes, it really is me: the deadbeat holiday letter black hole where your cards and notes simply vanish without a trace. The information they contained may never escape but since we rarely throw personal letters away, rest assured they are around here someplace. Just as a black hole gains mass pulling in planets and stars, your old letters add a mass of evidence to our household showing that we really do have social relationships. We appreciate them but, more than that, we admire your tenacity.

In years past, my wife and I have put the cards on display to mock our inability to respond with even a postcard. The following May, we take the display down and express our surprise that, given five or six months, we cannot produce even a single greeting card or Christmas letter.

I really thought the holiday-letter fad would burn itself out by the mid 1980s but you’ve proven me wrong once again. Touché. Over the years, every time I’ve considered composing a holiday note I was discouraged by the fabulously successful and glamorous lifestyles everyone else and their children seem to be experiencing as reported in your letters. Nevertheless, this year I am determined to generate a letter, come what may, before May.

In order to facilitate producing this epic composition, 

I have taken to the internet for advice on how to write a holiday letter. So that I don’t miss anything, I will go by an outline of the seven basic rules.

1. Note the passage of time.

Check – already addressed.

2. Use the first person to write your holiday letter.

Okay, I was the first person to arrive at the Department of Motor Vehicles this year to renew my license and I still spent an hour there with the state bureaucracy. There was not much else where I was the first person, so on to the next section.

3. Remind your readers who everyone is.

Or, if you prefer not to end a sentence with a verb, then list the cast of characters for your audience. So, there is “my wife” and our daughter who we call “the girl” and, of course, “the dog.” That’s about it.

4. Use anecdotes instead of reporting on every achievement.

This is easy, as I can’t really recall any major achievements. As a matter of fact, I can hardly recall what I did two days ago, let alone any achievements over the past years. But I am happy to report that no one here at the household was bitten by any really venomous snakes or spiders nor have we consumed tainted Kool-Aid, so in all the time I haven’t written, we didn’t have to use any anecdotes.And I see by your letters that you’ve been to the top of Machu Picchu, through the jungles of Phuket and in the backwaters of Bolivia, so I’m sure you’re more familiar with using tourniquets and anecdotes than I will ever be.

5. Minimize the bad news.

Oh, this is a hard one. It’s understandable that people want good news on the holidays. No one wants to hear about Uncle Harlan violating his parole when the feds caught 

him operating that “chemistry” lab. We already know that Jane’s mom is impossible to live with and that Gene is broke. Every family has their problems. Some burdens are secret and some are public knowledge but they are all deeply personal and oftentimes weighty. We have to remember this when we read those upbeat holiday letters. By the way, the dog died.

6. End on a high note with wishes for a pleasant holiday.

Wasn’t this the original idea behind Christmas cards? Thinking about it, this should be the only thing you need to send — along with a link to a web site, a police blotter or Facebook page where people can learn all about you.

7. Keep it brief.

Here’s to brevity: A very merry Christmas and the happiest of holidays to you all.

May your burdens seem minor and light,

And may none of your Christmas trees ignite.