DEAR MISS MANNERS: OK, what is really wrong with Christmas letters? I know a lot of people make disparaging remarks about them, but suppose you have a lot of friends and can't possibly sit down and write each one a separate letter? Isn't the newsletter once a year actually a good way of informing people about your activities? I would find it helpful if, instead of looking down on this, you set some rules about how to write them. Our Christmas list has more than 100 names on it, and I don't know any other practical way of letting our friends know what has happened to us -- about our month at the beach house, Junior's new braces, my husband's promotion, and so on.
GENTLE READER: Far be it from Miss Manners to look down on anyone so fortunate as to have more than a hundred friends so close as to be awaiting the news about your son's teeth. You will forgive her if she suggests that so high a degree of intimacy is not often maintained on the basis of a mass mailing once a year.
In other words, the trouble with form letters is that they are almost inevitably inconsistent with the relationship between writer and recipient. Friends and relatives who have a genuine interest in the details of your family life deserve some personal attention. If they can get through the year without wondering where you spent the summer, the chances are they are not burning to know now. And to bombard casual acquaintances with full accounts of your lives is to satisfy curiosity they may not feel.
So much for why Miss Manners dislikes the idea. Now to answer your question about how to do it.
First, keep it a reasonable length, and if you are e-mailing it, refrain from including items that take time to be downloaded.
Next, refrain from bragging. You wouldn't stand up at a party and shout "Lauren was made cheerleading captain!" or "We bought a boat!" or "We went to Maine last summer!" or "I got a raise!" Confine your "news" to more or less public matters -- "We've moved to Colorado," "I've finally finished law school," "Annabelle has joined the Army" -- and state them neutrally. The exception is that births, engagements and marriages include mention of the family's pleasure in them -- although, come to think of it, why weren't these close friends of yours notified of such important events at the time that they occurred?
Finally, refrain from offering your philosophy, politics or general wisdom gleaned from life: If the urge overwhelms you, it is better to write leaflets and hand them out to strangers on the street than to offend your friends by giving them unsolicited advice.
DEAR MISS MANNERS: Please help my husband and me settle an etiquette dilemma. During the holiday season, we send Christmas cards to our friends and relatives. I also like to send Chanukah cards to our Jewish friends. My husband feels this is inappropriate because it seems to imply that Chanukah is a Jewish version of Christmas and in some way signals a separate category for our Jewish friends. He would prefer a happy holiday card or no card at all.
I think he's quite silly, that thinking of someone and remembering one's special holiday is always correct. Naturally, convinced as we both are that your opinion will mirror each of ours, we have agreed to let Miss Manners be the final arbiter on this matter.
GENTLE READER: Whether or not your husband is quite silly, Miss Manners cannot say, and if so, she hopes you have a weakness for silly gentlemen. But he is right in this instance. It is always nice to remember your friends, but do you also remember each of your Jewish friend's attitudes toward Chanukah and toward Christmas? They could celebrate a secular Christmas or a Christmas-like Chanukah or neither or both.
If you don't know, you are risking causing great offense by making presumptions about their religious practices. Of course, inquiring closely into other people's religious practices is also offensive. Why can't you sidestep the issue by sending secular cards?