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Many of the Christmas cards and holiday update letters are collages of the years’ accolades and accomplishments, extravagant purchases, as well as promotions and photos from one-in-a-lifetime trips. But what do you do say when your year has been marked by loss or pain, foreclosure or funerals, divorce papers or a difficult diagnosis?

Difficult life events can make it hard to know what to write.

We stare at the blank page wondering what to say and what’s best left unsaid. Here are 5 tips on how to write a Christmas letter after you’ve had a bad year: 

1. Skip the full disclosure.

Oversharing can create a sense of discomfort. Your readers don’t need to know the nitty-gritty of the divorce or medical procedures you’ve undergone. Keep the facts simple and straightforward. If you’re not ready to talk about them, it’s okay to omit.

2. Create a reader-centric rather than writer-centric letter.

This seems counterintuitive when it comes to a Christmas letter. Picture the loved ones who will read your letter. What will they find interesting? What will bring a smile to their face? Perhaps you can add an element of humor, a cartoon, or something that will make them laugh. This addition may help add levity to otherwise heavy news.

3. Share something you’ve learned.

Pain is a cruel tutor, but if we allow, suffering opens the door to self-discovery and renews our priorities. Consider adding a sentence about what you’ve been discovering throughout the past year about the importance of friendships, the gift of life, the renewed commitment to fill-in-the-blank in your life.

4. Identify one source of gratitude.

Perhaps you’re thankful for close friends who have stood by you, the people who have committed to pray, the comfort you’ve received from God, the unexpected friendships you’ve developed along the way. Even if it’s been a rough n’ tumble year, find a reason to offer thanksgiving.

5. Close With a Sincere Wish.

Pause for a moment and reflect on the question: If this was the last Christmas letter you ever sent, what you want your loved ones to know. This is an appropriate place to offer a note of just how thankful you are for each person and their involvement in your life. Or you may invite people to joy into your loss. “Remembering Sarah with you this Christmas.”

What advice do you have for writing a Christmas letter after a dirty dog, bad year?