My children love their birthdays and Christmas. They are fortunate to be loved by many people who want to give them gifts for both occasions. Who doesn’t like a good gift, right?
But after the party is over and we’ve cleared away all the wrapping and ribbons, my children have come to know that one final step to the gift-giving dance must take place: the handwritten thank you note. It’s non-negotiable, and they know it. They may not agree with my policy, but they comply nonetheless, rolling their eyes all the way.
I come from a long tradition of proper thanking. To receive something lovely and not acknowledge the gift and the giver was tantamount to poor breeding and just plain rude. My husband and I received a silver nut dish as a wedding gift, but the card was detached from the package. My mother and I went through the guest list and lined up who had given what, and still could not identify the probable giver. We sleuthed around for at least two months before giving up, knowing that someone in our circle thought I was an ill-mannered bride who didn’t think a nut dish was worthy of a thanks. That was 25 years ago, and as I run across it when I’m digging through the china hutch, I feel a little bit guilty that I’ve offended someone deeply. The guilt is palpable enough, that I never removed the dish from its box, perhaps to punish myself for my epic faux pas.
I could be letting my imagination get the better of me, but there are many people who get really bent out of shape when not properly thanked. I like to think of myself as kind of hip and progressive, but I’m one of these cranky types. Is it shallow? Perhaps. Several years ago, we went to a wedding of a cousin twice removed. I gave the couple a lovely water pitcher. I liked it enough that I almost bought one for myself. The wedding was lovely. The reception was lovely. Months and months went by and a thank you never came. Nothing. I found myself irritated, but held back saying much. I did, after all, have my own nut dish to consider. A few years later, when I was invited to attend a baby shower for the bride in question, I have to admit that I considered declining. How very crotchety of me.
A lot of young people say today that the thank you note is passé, that a verbal thanks will do. Others believe a quick text or email does the job. I just don’t agree. What I keep telling my children, and praying that they will hear after I’m long gone and unable to nag effectively, is that thanking is important. I tell them that taking the time to jot a little personal note to someone will set them apart from their peers. That’s just it. When I was growing up, we wrote thank you notes because it was just expected. To not do so was considered exceedingly rude and in poor taste. By the time my children are fully-functioning adults, people won’t expect a written thank you, but they will be pleasantly surprised to receive one.
Over the years, I’ve provided my children a lot of coaching on thank you notes, but the rules are simple. I think Emily Post would approve. A thank you note should:
- Acknowledge that the gift has been received and opened. This relieves the giver of wondering if the gift has been delivered or not. Imagine the peace of mind that my nut dish giver might have had knowing that her gift had arrived and that I knew who sent it.
- Express appreciation to the giver. This sends the giver the message that you understand that the gift involved thought, time and energy to pull off. I was really hoping we’d get a silver nut dish and was thrilled that such a lovely one was chosen.
- Provide some detail about how you are using or plan to use the gift. If you have something really authentic and kind to share, great. It’s not necessary to be truthful here, certainly not if that truth hurts. I’m not sure about the statute of limitations on thank you notes, but if given the opportunity to thank the nut dish givers now, I would not share that the gift remains in its box, tucked behind the gravy boat.
- Make sure the giver knows how much you value your relationship. This is really important to remember. I really do hope that the nut tray givers, whoever they are, enjoyed themselves at our nuptials, and that they were able to let it go. As you can see, I’ve been able to.