The Christmas Letter: How to Write One and Why You Should

Hi. My name is Sarah, and I write a yearly Christmas letter.

Please don’t groan! I know all of the stereotypes of the Christmas letter:  They’re either boring, dry, and uninteresting lists of the year’s events that no one wants to read or they are laced with loads of humblebragging designed to make the author’s children, house, vacation, and overall life look somehow superior.  Or perhaps they are filled with so many personal details that the reader is left wondering what the author was trying to accomplish with such a bleak and soul-bearing confessional.

My mom wrote a Christmas letter every year when I was a kid (and still does today). Back in those days there was no email, Facebook, Snapchat, or Instagram to keep up-to-date with friends and loved ones across the country. The annual letter was how we were notified of births, deaths, adoptions, new jobs, graduations, and other milestones in the lives of friends and relatives scattered many miles away. 


Nowadays, with social media and digital communication literally at our fingertips, there seems to be less of a reason to keep up with the practice of putting the year’s events down on paper.  And yet, every year at this time, I sit down at my computer and sum up our family’s year. Hitting both the highlights and the lowlights, I tryi to do so in an amusing, interesting, and readable sort of way.  Sometimes it gets done quickly, and sometimes I ruminate over it for a couple of weeks before I’m satisfied. 

Why do I write a Christmas letter? Why do I enjoy getting and reading Christmas letters from friends and loved ones? There are three important reasons.

Three Reasons to Write an Annual Christmas Letter

Personal Connection

Social media is a great way to keep connected to friends and loved ones, but the amount of information can be overwhelming. It is easy to lose track of people in the noise of all the feeds.  The Christmas letter is a nice and concise way to review the important parts of the year and touch base with those who are important to you. 

Non-users of Social Media

Even though social media is very prevalent in our daily lives, there are still people who don’t use Facebook, Instagram, or email. Sending out that Christmas letter gives me at least one time during the year to connect with and update those people in my life. 

Family History

Perhaps the most important reason to write a Christmas letter is that it helps me to keep a written record of MY family history. I have all seven “Bengtson Family Epistles” (currently working on volume 8) saved in a binder on a shelf in our house. My mom has over 40 years of annual letters saved at her house. Reading through gives me a brief walk through the ups and downs of the years, and helps me to remember both the great times and the challenges that we have faced.

Have I convinced you to try writing your own Christmas letter?  Here are a few tips to get started with your own annual epistle.

Tips for Writing a Christmas Letter

1. Greeting

Start with a greeting, including well wishes to family and friends.

2. Family Updates

Give a brief update on each member of the family, including a few things that were especially important to each person. Try not to brag too much, although there is nothing wrong with including things of which each member is particularly proud. New jobs, promotions, school prizes, or athletic accomplishments are great updates to share!

3. Events

Elaborate briefly on a few important events or happenings of the year. It isn’t necessary to describe every trip, vacation, purchase, or good fortune in detail. Focus on the big picture to give the person reading a picture of your year.

4. Challenges

While Christmas letters tend to be mostly upbeat and positive, feel free to include challenges that your family is facing. For example, our 2013 letter described both our move to a new house (yay!) and my husband’s unexpected lay-off (boo!).  Just like when describing happy events, there’s no need to paint out every detail. Include just enough to give the reader the gist of what happened.

5. Farewell

End with more well wishes and a cheerful holiday greeting.


That’s it, really! Whether you send a Christmas letter or not, this time of year is a great time to sit down and look back at the events of the year.  For me, this is just one way to get those events down on paper, so that someday we can look back and see how our family has grown and changed.

Do YOU write a Christmas letter?  Do you like to receive letters from others?  Share your thoughts in the comments!


Sarah Bengtson
Sarah is a proud Iowa native who currently lives in North Liberty with her husband and 2 sons. She grew up in rural Benton county and moved to the Iowa City area in 2005 to attend graduate school at the University of Iowa in Physical Therapy. Now she balances raising two growing boys with a work as a pediatric physical therapist. Outside of work and family, Sarah loves music, playing her cello, running, baking, crochet, church activities, and cheering for the Hawkeyes and the Minnesota Vikings.


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