Does your heart sink when you open a Christmas card and a six-page essay falls out, liberally sprinkled with self-aggrandising phrases such as ‘our daughter Araminta has found the secret of alchemy in her fourth-form chemistry class’ and ‘we’ve finally bought that 16-bedroom château with vineyard and swimming pool in St Emilion’? Or do you smile at receiving an amusing, self-deprecating-and short-update on a great friend’s year? I have a friend who sends, instead of an account of his whole family’s achievements, a charming story about his two daughters, always amusing, uplifting and original and guaranteed to bring a smile to every Scrooge’s face. If you would prefer to provoke the latter reaction, here are a few tips to avoiding the former.
List every little thing your children have done, from getting their first swimming badge to joining the polo club at university
Boast about how successful your husband has been at his bank-your friends may not have jobs, let alone bonuses
Ramble on for more than a side of A4-embroiled in the Christmas rush, no one has time to read War and Peace
Embellish it with lots of ‘clever’ fonts and colours-the time is long past for impressing people with your mastery of Microsoft Word
Include lots of cutesy pictures of babies and puppies, or try-hard photographs of family members at grand events
Be self-deprecating. The ability to laugh at yourself and acknowledge disasters is far more appealing-and far less dull-than a list of fabulous achievements
Pick out a maximum of two things to say about children and especially babies, and keep a check on the superlatives
Include one or two, no more, cheerful pictures taken somewhere meaningful and memorable-a new flat, a favourite holiday spot, playing with the dog in the snow
Keep it elegant, a single, classic, decent-sized font, and use white space. Break it up with plenty of paragraphs so your readers’ eyes aren’t daunted by a solid block of text
Add handwritten, personalised notes to or queries about the recipient
Finally, sign it, with a fountain pen!