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The Worst Things to Write in a Holiday Card, Etiquette Experts Say

Spread cheer—without making a major faux pas.

As the holidays approach, many people send out their season's greetings in the form of a holiday card or letter. These pictures and updates can feel especially meaningful to far-flung friends or distant relatives who don't have many other points of contact with you or your family throughout the year. That's why it's so important to send the right message, etiquette experts say. Ahead, they're sharing seven key things you should never write in your holiday card if you'd like to keep the exchange merry and bright.

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Don't write too much.

Hands of young woman holding handwritten love letter
Shutterstock / Janna Golovacheva

Brevity is the soul of wit, and also the key to a successful holiday card.

Jodi RR Smith, founder of Mannersmith Etiquette Consulting, says it's best not to overwhelm the recipient with information—after all, most people receive many cards during the holiday season.

"While we do want to know what you have been up to, we do not need to know ALL of the details," she shares. "If you are devoting one paragraph per month, chances are you have begun your biography, not a holiday letter."

Don't be a downer.

Christmas cards things no woman over 50 should own
Fanette RickertShutterstock

There's a time and a place to share the hard things that have been happening in your life, but Smith says you should think long and hard before including difficult news in your holiday card or letter.

"Life is not fair. There are years when things have not gone as hoped or as planned. If your past year has been so dismal there is nothing positive worth sharing, it may be better to just send cards and take a year off from your letter," she suggests.

She adds that while you can certainly make note of milestone events, it helps to try to end on an upbeat note. For instance, you might say, "Grandpa's passing was rough, but hearing happy stories about Gramps from near and far helped to buoy us through this time."

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Don't make insensitive jokes or comments.

man writing holiday cards and funny 'out of office' messages in front of his laptop before the holiday break
Zivica Kerkez/Shutterstock

The sort of humor that would be perfectly acceptable in conversation can feel more pointed or hurtful in writing, where your comments lack context. You can avoid offending your loved ones by being mindful of how often jokes can easily get lost in translation.

"Making light of someone's personal issues or societal issues can be hurtful at any time but especially hurtful during the holidays when people tend to be more sensitive," says Jules Hirst, founder of Etiquette Consulting. "Try to remain positive."

Don't air grievances.

A senior woman reading a letter with a distressed look on her face

Sometimes it's easy to lose sight of how the recipients of your card or letter might react to it—especially when the contents are deeply personal. You can help ensure that no one will take offense by keeping your family grievances to yourself, says Smith.

"Journaling is a fabulous way to make sense of one's life. Using your annual holiday letter to hang out your dirty laundry, usually by taking cheap shots at those who are unable to defend themselves, is simply not appropriate," she advises.

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Don't boast, brag, or lie.

stack of christmas cards

The experts say it's important to keep your card or letter grounded in humility and reality. While no one will bat an eye at you putting on your best outfit for the card photo, it's important not to get swept up in your urge to keep up appearances.

"Creative license in your holiday letter, more often than not, comes across as a thinly veiled cry for help," says Smith. "As with cheating on exams, the only one you are fooling is yourself."

Hirst agrees that this can sour the experience of receiving a holiday card. "Do not flaunt your achievements or material gains from the previous year," she says, adding that it can "make the recipient feel uncomfortable or inadequate."

Don't write generic or impersonal messages.

Christmas Tree Celebration Tinsel Concept

Though Hirst says it's "important to maintain boundaries in holiday cards," she also says that it's a common mistake to make holiday cards overly generic.

"Generic messages are impersonal and lack a personal touch. Messages should include a personal note or a shared memory with the recipient to make the card more meaningful," she says.

Laura Windsor, founder of Laura Windsor Etiquette & Protocol Academy, agrees that stock messages can leave the recipient feeling unvalued. "Holiday cards sent with just a signature sound cold and distant instead of warm and fuzzy," she tells Best Life.

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Don't get recipients' names wrong.

white hand putting christmas card through slot in red door

It may seem obvious, but getting people's names wrong on the envelope is an embarrassing oversight, Windsor warns. It also happens more often than you might think.

The most common error is mistakenly assuming that married couples share the same last name. Before sending your cards, it can be a great idea to check social media or touch base with someone in the know to verify whether or not your distant relative or friend still goes by their maiden name.

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Lauren Gray
Lauren Gray is a New York-based writer, editor, and consultant. Read more
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