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Christmas letters

21 Christmas letters that won’t bore the readers

I am one of those people who writes a yearly family letter every year. Somewhere tucked in a draw in someone’s house are all the Christmas letters I have written. I just know it! I hope I have evolved over the years. So, in the hopes of helping reinvigorate the art of Christmas letter writing and to help another soul looking for more creative ideas, I am sharing my past letter ideas here.

The tried and true Christmas letters

Christmas past, Christmas present, and Christmas future. At the time, I claimed this letter was not as boring as the others they would receive. It was my first attempt at writing a Christmas letter. All these years later I realize that the letter is indeed boring. Example: Christmas past was about what happened in the past year. Christmas present was where we were working and such. While Christmas future was about our upcoming year.

Written by our dog, Fletcher. Creative at the time but everyone has done this idea. Example: “Hi, my name is Fletcher. Mom and Dad are too busy doing human stuff. So, in between naps I will try to retrace some of the past year.”

Baby Makes Three. Written from the view of our newborn baby. Again, a tried and true version of Christmas letters. I at least used some pretty winter scenery paper. Wonder how much that cost? Example: “I must turn this over to Mom. I don’t remember the first part of my life and besides, I must nap now.”

Improving on the Christmas letter writing

Movie Titles. I started to stretch my creativity a bit. I used movie titles intermingled in our end of the year recap. It’s also fun to see all these years later what movies popular. Example: Chris, the star of An Ideal Husband and his driving could best be compared to Eyes Wide Shut, without the raunchy parts.

Top Ten List. At the time we lived in Idaho so the list was ‘Top Ten Things to Do While living in Idaho.” You could easily write about your own town. Again, I was getting more creative, or so I thought. Here is an example: 1. Ski, Hunt, Fish. 2. Flying: Chris has completed his private pilot’s license requirements.

NewsletterIt’s a cute, short, and easy way to share your thoughts. I’m sure at the time it was a lot of work and I was proud of it.  Example: It announced the birth of our second-born son. Also, a Sightseeing section showed a trip we had taken that year. I have done the newsletter a couple of times. One time I used fancy parchment paper, included lots of pictures, and featured my third kid that was born that year. I was probably tired and desperate and this was a quick and easy way to get a letter written while kids napped. Some of the sample headings were: What we did this year. A year of blessings. What we learned. It includes some fun facts based on events from the year. 

Stepping up the Christmas letter game

Review in Pictures This one is really simple for busy parents or folks that just don’t want to write a lot. I did this one when I had two kids, lived in a foreign country, and my husband was deployed. I included nothing but pictures along with a short summary. It starts off: We realize how busy we all are this time of year, so here we have put our past year in pictures. 

Kids Answer Questions. I probably was desperate when I asked my kids questions for this newsletter. My kids’ answers are hilarious. I then give a recap and provided a picture of us. Example: The question was ‘Do you like your new house?’ Trevette’s response was “Yes, I like that it has an island in the kitchen.” Guthrie’s responded with “Time to eat!” Again, this is a simple Christmas letter if you have smaller kids.

Rebus Christmas letter. This was fun! I replaced some of the words with pictures. Each of my kids is represented by their faces. Other words are replaced with little clip art. For example, I included airplanes for when we flew and clipart for activities. See abcteach.com for examples and ideas to get you started: https://www.abcteach.com/directory/subjects-language-arts-reading-rebus-2280-2-1   

Rebus Christmas letter
Here is a general example of a Rebus letter. ©www.havefunteaching.com

Imaginative Christmas letters

All I ever learned I learned from Country music. The year was 2008. I guess I liked Country Music because the letter is based on the titles of country music songs. I use song titles to share our monumental events. You could easily pick your favorite genre and do the titles of popular songs from the year. One example is ‘Fall by Clay Walker’, as it shared the time that our kid fell out of a second-story window.  

I share more about that experience in another blog post: https://missykuester.com/the-one-time-my-kid-fell-out-of-a-window/

A Fairy Tale Christmas Letter. I decided to use my title of Princess to write our annual letter. The letter used royal titles and a storyline. You could use any story to write your letter. How about a superhero letter or from your favorite tv show. Example: Upon arriving in their new village they were given new responsibilities. The Prince was tasked with watching the skies. (Chris was an air traffic controller and airfield manager at the time.)

The best and worst of 2012. I shared things such as The best family vacation, Favorite month, Happiest Homecoming (because Magnum was deployed yet again), and Best News of the year….that we were moving to Belgium. 

Thinking outside the box for Christmas letters

Facebook Status Update Christmas. I remember I was new to Facebook. I used status updates for the letter and then explained each event. The descriptions were short and to the point. Again Magnum was deployed so I was probably pulling my hair out. Example: Received my Princess Crown which told about the time my friend Lisa took pity on me and threw me a princess-themed party.

Bumper Sticker Letter. For this idea, I am sure it came to me as I stood at my freezer wondering what I was going to make for dinner. Each event starts off with a bumper sticker I have on my freezer. Each side is covered in bumper stickers so there is a lot of material to work with. One such sticker read, Yes, this is my truck and no, I won’t help you move. Then I wrote about how my husband bought a new truck.

Freezer with bumper stickers
Here is a recent picture of our garage freezer adorned with hundreds of bumper stickers. ©missykuester.com

A Review told with memes. I was pretty proud of this one. It was at the height of the memes. I used the memes to set up poignant events that had happened throughout the year. For example, I used a meme that said “We’ve decided moving is the easiest way to clean your house” and then I shared about our move to Belgium.

Epic Christmas letter ideas that will surely impress your family and friends

Season in Review: Football theme: This was the first year I did a photo card. In our picture, we are football players and referees. The theme of the letter is also football and breaks our year up into Quarters. I also used football verbiage and jargon. Example: Final Score: Kuesters crushed the Year 2014.

Comical Year. I really kicked it up a notch. This time, I made ourselves into comic characters and created a comic strip using a free online comic strip maker. storyboardthat.com It was visually pleasing and easy to read for sure. Example: One picture was me sitting in a hospital bed because I had ankle surgery at the beginning of the year.

Comic Christmas letter
This is the comic I created for a Christmas letter one year.

Quotable Christmas. I have a book of zany things my kids say so I resorted to those quotes for a Christmas letter. Example: “The Beastie Boys fought and possibly died for my right to party” a quote by Trevette. I used it to share news about his senior year and graduation.

Random Facts. For this letter, I invoked the help of my family. They always have these random facts. I asked them to share facts based on what I was writing. One such great example: We moved from Maryland to Washington so one of the facts was “It was 2, 837, 015 smoots from there to here.”

This year’s letter is canceled. Even though it was the 2019 letter, it was probably best suited for the following year. I laid out all the reasons we couldn’t write a letter. For example, I thought I would have some time in August between trips to…..and so forth.” By the end of the letter, I had given all the reasons we couldn’t write a letter.

BINGO! This year’s Christmas letter idea

I’ve been writing these letters for Twenty Five years. It is the Silver Anniversary Edition of Christmas letters. A couple of years I repurposed ideas. This year it is…Bingo Christmas. I used a Bingo card generator at http://spark.adobe.com. Lucky for me 2020 gave me a lot to work with. I marked off the things we actually got to do. Consequently, there were things we didn’t get to do and I left those events unmarked.

Bingo Christmas
Kuester Bingo Christmas Letter ©missykuester.com

Now you try it

These are my most epic Christmas letter ideas that are sure to not bore the recipients. Each year I try to outdo myself from the year before. I hope this inspires you to write a better Christmas letter that shares your yearly events in an entertaining and interesting way. Good Luck!

Pilgrims at Thanksgiving did not go home

That time the Pilgrims didn’t go home for Thanksgiving

Several years ago, I wrote a response to an article on Military Spouse Magazine in regards to going home for the holidays. The article felt judgy and unnecessary for military spouses who want to go home but for reasons cannot. My response was hasty, brash, and resonated with other military spouses. If you google it you can probably still find the original article at https://www.militaryspouse.com/magazine/. I decided to edit and share with you my thoughts about feeling guilty when you cannot go home for Thanksgiving, Christmas, or any other important times of the year. So enjoy this revamped and retitled article, That time the Pilgrims didn’t go home for Thanksgiving. Here is to another guilt-free holiday!

Released from guilt

Two significant times in my life I was released from guilt for living so far away from family. The first was when my mother told me to get out of our small, rural, Indiana town. Then my 93-year-old grandmother told me as we prepared to move to Germany, “If anything should happen to me while you are gone do not haul those babies back here for my funeral.” She released from the guilt I had for not attending her funeral. You see, I am married to a military man but I live with less guilt because of the overwhelming understanding of my family for missing out on holidays back home.

My husband Chris has been in the Air Force for over twenty years. We have spent five years overseas and moved fourteen times in total. Currently, my college kid has never come home for Thanksgiving. I would be a hypocrite to insist he come home for Thanksgiving. In the meantime, I have prepared myself for the future. As the mother of boys, I may spend future holidays without them. Our military lifestyle has always been about creating new traditions. Holidays at our house don’t always look traditional and we are okay with that.

Many times it is just not fathomable to return to your parents’ home for the holidays. Air travel, car rental, hotel stays, boarding of pets, food, and the list compiles and before you know it, you are so in debt you cannot travel the rest of the year. There is also the stress factor, the inability to get enough time off, and a plethora of other responsibilities. Let us not forget those that are deployed and cannot be home for the holidays.

Random thoughts about going home for the holidays.

1. If it is so important for your extended family to be together, invite them to your place. Two years in a row, our families traveled to where we live and we rented a house large enough for all of us. It relieved me of doing all the cooking and cleaning.
2. Delay holiday for cheaper times of the year or plan a destination holiday where you all gather in a central location. I dream of having a vacation in a cabin in the mountains one day surrounded by my boys and their families.
3. Talk to your extended family. Let them know how you feel. My hope is that your family is understanding and if not that is on them, not you.
4. Coordinate with local friends to gather for the holiday or serve in the community in some capacity. In years past, my family and I are served dinner to inmates in a halfway program on a farm.
5. Create your own traditions. My husband and I have created our own family holiday traditions. We look forward to carrying these out every year.
6. Above all, do what is right for you and your family. In the meantime, release your family from that same guilt. And do not judge other military families if their choices for the holidays are different than yours.

The 2020 holiday season is different but still guilt-free

The holidays should not be stressful or filled with guilt. My kid is doing what I taught him to do by making a life of his own. If his adventures lead him far away at the holidays I will survive just like my mother has done. She is a great example of how a mother can release her children and adapt through the holidays. Listen, this military life is hard enough on good days so the last thing you need is to feel guilty for not being able or wanting to return home for the holidays. Instead, embrace your new home, make new traditions, and if someone tries to make you feel guilty remind them that the Pilgrims didn’t go home for the holidays either. I release you of that guilt. I’m not saying to never go home for the holidays but when you can’t that’s okay too.

The 2020 year is bizarre, to say the least. We are being told by health professionals that it is best to not gather in large groups or with those people who have compromised immunity. This year we all are relinquished of any guilt about not going home for the holidays. We can claim that we love our families by staying away and thus keeping them healthy.   

Have a happy, guilt-free holiday season!

Second house in Texas

Military housing: Challenge accepted

On October 9, 2009, at 3:00 p.m., a knock on my door surprised me. I assumed it was one of the neighborhood kids asking to play with one of my boys at the park. As it was a Friday, I was ready to sit at the park with the other parents and have an adult beverage in one of those kid’s cups from Chili’s. I was months into a deployment so I had earned it. Much to my surprise, it was one of the military housing managers, Kathy. Beside her stood someone vaguely familiar. Also, with a deployed husband, I automatically feared the worst. Sensing my unease, they jumped straight to the point.

“Mrs. Kuester, we need to renovate your kitchen and you have until the end of the month to vacate your house.”

The first thing into my brain and out of my mouth was, “Over my dead body!”

The man, Jason spoke again, “I don’t think you understand. You don’t have a choice.”

And that’s when the challenge was accepted.

Finding out what I was made of

Anyone that knows me knows that if you back me into a corner, ask me my opinion or challenge me, I will fight back. Poor Jason had no idea that I was not passive. He and I were both about to find out what I was made of. (Find out more about me: https://missykuester.com/have-you-heard-about-missy-kuester/)

Let me back up.

Our family arrived at Randolph AFB near San Antonio, Texas in July 2008. We owned a home in Delaware that had not sold. Therefore, we felt it more economical to live on base. The day before arriving, Randolph military housing called to tell us a house was available. On our check-in, the housing office explained that the kitchen would be renovated in the next year and may require us to move out. We agreed because we were desperate. We moved into the house on August 22. A private contractor, Pinnacle Hunt had taken over months before so things were in a stage of transition.

We pretty much lived in bliss at 5 Northeast Road. With family in the Dallas area, new and old friends, and great neighbors, we were content. We loved the 1920’s character and charm of the on-base housing. Even though it had an outdated kitchen, I was thrilled to have a base house.

A bit of history on Randolph AFB Housing: https://www.433aw.afrc.af.mil/News/Article-Display/Article/1547475/history-comforts-of-home-coexist-at-jbsa-randolph-housing/

Early in 2009, we found out Magnum would be deploying. In preparation for his deployment, we informed Pinnacle he would leave in May. The house across the street (6 Northeast Road) became vacant a few weeks before.  We requested that we be allowed to move into it. “Perfect,” they said. So, with the help of neighbors and my family, we relocated to the house across the street.

May came and went, Magnum left, our lives resumed until that knock on the door.

The fight was on

By this point in my military spouse career, I had endured many deployments, gave birth to a baby in a foreign country with Magnum deployed, and moved…a lot. I felt confident in my abilities to keep things afloat. So, as soon as they told me I needed to vacate to renovate a kitchen that had already been updated but now needed to be updated again (lookup government fraud, waste, and abuse) I was upset. My first call was to Chris’s commander.  He was an imposing man, probably about 6’4″. He also happened to be a really good guy. We agreed to meet at the housing office. Upon our arrival, he did the talking. He asked to speak to Kathy, the manager. We went through the whole song and dance about ‘Did we have an appointment?’ and ‘Was she expecting us?’ No, and No but we were not leaving.

The great thing about the colonel besides his physical stature, his cool demeanor, his smart brain, and the eagles on his lapels was his notebook. Something so simple conveyed that he was serious. The air shifted when he withdrew that notepad from his pocket.

Throughout the process I quietly observed. The manager, Kathy answered the colonel’s questions and filled in blanks. He scribbled their answers in his notebook. Then he turned to me and asked one simple question, “Missy, is that how it happened?” I said a simple ‘no’. And the fight was on! The colonel gave the manager homework and we dispersed with a plan.

The military spouses’ guide to a fight, 10 things that may help you

There are a lot of details I am leaving out but I need to get to the point of this post. Sadly, this type of behavior is still ongoing. I want to share things that worked and what I learned throughout this process so it may help other military spouses.

  1. You should always start with the chain of command, even if you don’t have faith in them. Give them an opportunity to do what is right. Proceed from there.
  2. You find out who your friends are.  I heard from many people that my name was often mentioned during morning meetings on base. Well-meaning people offered their sympathy but no real help. The wing commander called near the end of this ordeal with no real help but empty words. One person stood out. We were friends before this event and he and his wife supplied me with pitchers of sangria during the deployment. In another world, before housing privatization, he had more say in the matter. He did try to speak up and he was told it was no longer his lane. One day, I received word that a Congressional complaint was filed on my behalf. I could only guess it was him.
  3. It’s important to get the word off base.  This was a valuable lesson taught to me by my friend Angie. She guided me through the ordeal. She sent messages to all the contacts she had in town; reporters, news outlets, bloggers, politicians, etc. When the wing commander said to me, “I’m getting phone calls from outside of base about your situation and we don’t like that to happen,” I knew I had peoples’ attention. Get the word out! I equate it to an abuser threatening you to not tell anyone. Tell someone!
  4. Document EVERYTHING!  I learned this early on with the colonel’s notebook. Write down everything. Record conversations, keep emails, and remember, that tablet may be your best weapon. People will lie, say they don’t recall or change their story. You need a record to protect yourself.
  5. Find your Allies.  Yes, you will find out who your friends but you need allies. I found people within the military housing office that did not agree with what was going on. Our maintenance guys were with housing before privatization. They were familiar with these older homes. Even before this saga, I appreciated them. During our future renovation phase when I was living in another house temporarily, they met me at the house to let me get personal items. Don’t look down on the people who have the actual keys to your home.
  6. Don’t ask, tell people what you need and want.  This was another valuable piece of advice from Angie. I stopped being sheepish and instead stated what I needed and wanted. At some point, they realized I wasn’t going to back down and therefore started meeting my demands. I wasn’t mean spirited but stood firm in what I needed. My kids were already without their dad, now they were being forced from their home.
  7. Find resources and help outside of the military spectrum.  Tap into resources outside the gate. I reached out to the VFW and The American Legion. Both of those organizations reached out to Public Affairs and put pressure on them. I sent emails and made phone calls almost daily to obtain advice and find out my rights. Educate yourself. One of the best ways to bring about change or bring awareness to a situation is to contact your Congressman’s office.
  8. It’s not always about you.  This has two meanings. Sometimes, the military housing office, management, and contractors are just doing what they are told. While it’s hard to not take it personally, it isn’t a direct attack on you even though that’s how it feels. Also, remember when you are fighting, keep in mind all those families that will come after you. As I told management many times, “What are you doing to the first term Airman (Solider, Marine), who is 19, new to the military, has a wife and a baby?” Always work so that you relieve some of the hardship for others.
  9. Shoot for the moon and hope to land on the stars.  After I learned to tell people what I needed, I shot for the moon. Initially, they wanted me to move entirely to a new house and never return. I asked the housing manager if she ever moved 3 times in one year. She then understood what they were asking of us. When they said I needed to move for 4 months, I told them to find me a place on base. They suggested a TLF room, but it was not comparable to our house and wouldn’t allow my dog. I also requested a furnished house on base and I got it.
  10. Use the power wisely.  After a while, I realized my power in this situation. The goal was to use it in a way that got us to our desired endpoint, a house with a new kitchen. It had to be done and the housing office wasn’t going away. The contractor slated our house to be the last one to be remodeled to allow time for Chris to return from his deployment. When workers failed to show up one day to work on my house, I called Hunt Headquarters. I informed them it was costing them more money every day I was displaced. From that day on, workers never failed to show up to work and eventually finished ahead of schedule. I think they were just tired of me. What I never did was become mean, resorted to name-calling, or became overly demanding. Keeping a level head and ultimately working together made the process go faster.

At the end of the day

At the end of the day, it all worked out for our family. I can’t say the above will work in every case for every person. Each situation is different. Our situation was a matter of inconvenience, not safety. If my experience can help even one person or give them the courage to speak up, then we win. Military families are resilient. But we also endure things that many people don’t. Our homes are our refuge. It’s the one place where we have a little bit of control in a lifestyle that requires us to be flexible, resilient, and brave. In the end, no matter the outcome, all that matters is that you are safe, healthy, and together.

And the next time someone tells you that you don’t have a choice, remember you do have power in the situation. I wonder what Jason is up to these days.

I wrote this post sharing my experience after becoming involved with MHAN, a great resource for military families living in military housing with private, managing contractors. http://militaryhousingadvocacynetwork.org/