Holiday Letters: Creating Unique, Fun Family Updates
Tips for Creating Fun Holiday Letters
Every year we get tons of cards and letters from family and friends that we haven’t heard from in months. The letters are full of updates, some interesting, some mundane, printed on holiday card stock and tucked with a loose photo or two, into standard envelopes. I love receiving the letters, don’t get me wrong. I love my family and friends, so it’s always nice hear what’s going on with them. But I’ve always thought that it would be much more creative to put those updates into a non-traditional format and to engage the whole family in the process. Typically, the letters are written by the female head of the household, who talks about her children’s accolades, the antics of the family dog and the family’s recent vacations. Paragraph after paragraph goes on like this in what amounts to a very long letter. Just for kicks, I thought I’d suggest a fun, unique and creative way to mix things up a bit and to help your holiday letters stand out from the crowd.
Creating the Perfect Family Newspaper
What appeals to me about reading the newspaper, is that the headlines make it easy to pick out which stories I am interesting in reading. Those that I don’t care about, I skip, but those with juicy headlines draw me in; some articles are funny, some are dramatic, some are informative. The paper is chock full of diverse information and written in a variety of styles that appeal to everyone. Color pictures add to the experience by helping to more fully immerse the reader in the story.
Your holiday letter can be more like a newspaper, written in columns, with by-lines, including photos under which captions offer more information. Just think of the reaction you’d get from family and friend when they receive such an innovative letter!
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Sit your family down and ask each member to contribute something to the paper. Ask them to reflect on things that have happened during the past year that they would like to share. These things could be overviews of vacations, highlights of sporting events, grades made on report cards, new babies, fun field trips, or anything else of interest to them. Make a list of family members and under each, write down the ideas that they have brainstormed.
Next, begin to envision how your paper will be laid out. Consider what headlines will look like, including what font and font size you will use. Most papers have separate sports pages, local or community news pages which are separate from national and international news, and often an entertainment section. The latter not only gives highlights on what is going on in the entertainment industry, but also include puzzles and other games. Many papers often feature comics as well. Ask your family to decide which features you would like your paper to include and then determine who will be responsible for coordinating these features. For example, perhaps your oldest child wants to be the editor of the sports page and your youngest might wish to draw comics for the funny pages. There are programs and software available that can help you to create an authentic layout. If you are not able to purchase such programs or do not feel comfortable using them, you can design your own.
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Naming Your Paper
No newspaper is complete without a name. In my area we have the Wisconsin State Journal and the Milwaukee Journal/ Sentinel. Some common newspaper names include The Journal, The Times, The Tribune, The Herald, The Sentinel and more. If you borrow one of these titles, it will reinforce that what you are sending is not a mere letter, but a newspaper. Perhaps your holiday paper is called, The White Family Tribune.
Creating Your Headlines
In order to capture your reader’s attention, your headlines should be bold, large font (perhaps 48 pt.) and be different font from the corresponding column. Headlines should also be teasers. They give just enough information to make you want to read on for more. If you are doing a sports page that chronicles all of the family’s athletic achievements, you can try headlines such as:
- Lady Lancers Take State Title
- Jack White Named Little League MVP
- Megan White Takes Indoor Soccer Lessons by Storm!
I mentioned some of the newspaper sections you might include above. Here is a little more detail on how to use those sections in your family newspaper.
The Main Page
You can include general holiday information on the main page. This might include your family’s plans for the holidays (i.e. White’s Spend the Holidays with Grandma Jean); an article on what the holidays mean to your family and any traditions that you have; overview of major events (i.e. Jeffrey White Graduating from Madison High School in May 2011). If you do holiday volunteering such as Christmas morning at the homeless shelter or soup kitchen, or if you ring bells for Salvation Army, be sure to include that as well.
Be sure to include plenty of pictures to support your articles. People love pictures. Since newspapers include plenty of photos, it is better to insert them into the body of your newspaper than to include loose photos separately. Large pictures are often used in advance of headlines, or just after the headlines and often include captions that offer more information. Pictures can also be inserted into your column by using wrap around text. These photos also include captions. Captions are typically included in a smaller, different font to differentiate it from the text of the article. If you have a color printer that is great, but black and white photos are okay too. Most photos in the paper, save for the front page, are also included in black and white, so use of primarily black and white photos may add to the authenticity of your publication.
The Business Section
This section would include articles from mom and dad about how their jobs are going, if they are expecting any new jobs in the coming year, retirement information, if you have supported any charities or if you want to ask family and friends to do the same. It might also include fun articles about the kids such as your teenager’s first job or how your youngest child did with their first lemonade stand last summer.
The Sports Page
We covered this one, but don’t forget to include updates about prep sports, coed sports, intramurals, or sports lessons. This might include articles about dance clubs, horseback riding trips, learning to water ski, sports related injuries, or college scholarships awarded to your kids for sports.
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The Entertainment Section
This is a great place to include information such as a review of the Cirque du Soleil show you saw this year, how the kid’s school plays went (what part did they play). You can write these articles as if you were a critic. You can also include your favorite holiday recipes in this section as well as fun things about family karaoke night, family game night a review of the latest Harry Potter movie or whatever pertains to your entertainment experience for the year. This is also a good place to include fun puzzles. You can easily make word search, Cryptoquote, or trivia games for your newspaper. Simply design your game, cut and paste it into the newspaper.
The Travel Page
If you’ve taken any fun vacations be sure to give an overview with pictures. This could include anything from big family vacations to class field trips. You might even write an article on the big family vacation you’re planning for the coming year.
If anyone has a flare for art, or if you have young children that love to draw but aren’t yet adept at writing, this could be a fun feature page. Simply scan the drawings and include them. This offers everyone an opportunity to participate in the family newspaper, no matter their age or ability.
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Don't Forget the Advertisements
I have yet to see a paper that does not include advertisements. Publishers stay in business by selling ad space to businesses. If you have fundraisers that you are participating in, be sure to create ad space to highlight what you’re selling and what the proceeds will go toward. Perhaps your children are selling candy bars or pizzas for school or for their soccer team. Perhaps you are organizing a walk/ run for a local charity and need to recruit participants. Perhaps your teenager daughter is into beading and wants to highlight her work and announce that it is for sale. Whatever you want to advertise, it is best highlighted in advertisement format. This adds to the authenticity of your publication. You can include color photos in the ads as well. Ads are often inserted into letter boxes or other borders to make them stand out. The ads are also very concise and smaller than your typical articles. If you want to write a small article to correspond to the ad, the ad can state something like, “see pg. 4 for more details.”
Coupons are also a staple in most papers. Many families can't wait until the Sunday paper when all the great sales are advertised and the grocery coupons come out. We clip to save on a regular basis. You can include coupons in your paper as well. It could be a fun way to invite family and friends to your home for a BBQ or for a game night. Simply decide what types of entertaining you might like to do during the year and create a coupon that can be clipped from your paper as a means of inviting people to your home. You can either have a set date, time and event in mind, or you can use open-ended invitations. Which ever you decide, just use color coupons! Instead of indicating R.S.V.P., you might say something such as, "call for an appointment," or other language that is routinely used in advertisements.
I hope you’ve gotten some fun ideas for your upcoming holiday letter. I think you’ll have a ball designing it and your friends and family will marvel at your creativity! Have a blessed holiday season!
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