Search This Blog

Saturday, December 26, 2015

In Defense of the Thank-You Note

Photo by Amy Gizienski
Welcome to post-December 25th. You have survived Christmas for another year.
Shiny swaths of red, green, and gold wrapping paper litter the living room, to the delight of the cat who will hopefully pass those gnawed-up strands of curly ribbon into the litter box sometime over the next week. The children are uncustomarily quiet as they revel in the joys of all the new toys—which the adults released from the death grip of their clamshell packagings via pick-axes, blowtorches, and the Jaws of Life—to the delight of their parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, who can now swill coffee (or something else) in peace while reading the newspaper.
Take the day off. You’ve earned it. Eat a pastry. Watch a game. Order what you really wanted for Christmas with the Amazon gift card you got from the person who last year gave you a purple sequined shower cap and what they thought was a back massager before it became a part of family lore that they will never, ever live down.
But tomorrow you pick up a pen.
Writing thank-you notes is not a quaintly antiquated activity for elderly people who don’t have anything better to do with their time. It is an essential and non-negotiable responsibility which fulfills a fundamental social-contract obligation: the completion of the gift-gratitude circle.
Why Should I Write Thank-You Notes?
Because if you don’t, you’re a selfish, lazy jerk.
Or you look like one, anyway.
Really. The people who gave you stuff shopped for you, wrapped for you, and delivered for you. Even if the gift was just some kitsch crap, effort was made toward your delight. You can sacrifice a hundred seconds or so to pen a short note on a folded card, slide it into an envelope, scrawl an address on the front, and slap a stamp on it.
No, Seriously. What’s the Real Point of Thank-You Notes?
Okay then.
For folks who won’t do anything unless they can first identify a measurable benefit to themselves, let me offer some motivation.
People who don’t send thank-you notes get fewer gifts in the future. Not making this up. I have cut from my Christmas list—and know of many others who have done and continue to do the same—a number of people to whom the gifts I sent vanished into a black hole, never to be heard of again. (Interestingly, these are frequently the same people who never sent me anything, either. Maybe they just don’t want me in their lives? No problem. Off you go.)
And I once received a beautiful antique vanity table (which I still have and will pass on to one of my daughters—whichever one writes the best thank-you notes, probably) from a fairly distant relative with whom I never had a lot of contact. Why did I receive it instead of one of my contemporaries who had closer kin-ties to the giver? “Because you always send thank-you notes.” Not kidding. That’s exactly what she wrote on the card that accompanied the table. (And I owe full credit for those thank-you notes to my slave driver of a mother, whose whip-cracking predilections I emulate today.)
Okay, You’ve Convinced Me. But How Do I Write a Thank-You Note?
I’m glad you asked! It’s easy, really.
You pick up notecards at Target or Hallmark or the grocery store. Places like Michael’s and A. C. Moore have pretty decent ones in their $1.00 bins. But if going out of the house is a bridge too far, you can even use a sheet torn off one of those free notepads that charities like the Humane Society and the March of Dimes sends you to try to guilt you into giving them a holiday donation.
Just don’t use the return envelope that came with it. It’s really bad form to scratch out the Little Sisters of Charity address and write in your grandparents’ over top of it. Pony up for a box of #10’s, slacker.
And here’s a sample Thank-You Note script to get you started:
Dear Aunt Beulah,
Thank you so much for the thoughtful (useful, interesting—pick your adjective, but do NOT write weird, cheap, or crappy) gift you sent. I’ve always wanted/I never knew I needed/I’ve never before seen a [FILL IN GIFT HERE] (but NOT What made you buy this?, What were you thinking?, or Did I do something to offend you?). I can’t wait to try it out/show it off/research it (but NOT throw it out, re-gift it, or light a firecracker under it). I’m sure it will give me years of pleasure (entertainment, joy, use, but NOT embarrassment, firewood, or fodder for mocking you).
Have a Happy New Year, and I hope to see you soon!
Your adoring (appreciative, only, but NOT disappointed, P.O.’d, or vengeful) nephew,
And that’s all there is to it.
But I Still Have Some Questions About Thank-You Notes.
Fire away!
Do I have to write a thank-you note if the person was present when I opened the gift?
No. Unless you failed to say, “Thank you” at the time of the opening. Or if your face betrayed the depth of your loathing for the person and/or their gift. If so, write to explain that because others who were present demonstrated such extreme jealousy over the gift, you were afraid for your life and did not properly convey the actual depth of your gratitude.
What if I don’t receive thank-you notes for the gifts I gave other people?
Until now you have had little recourse against those detestable, gift-grubbing ingrates. But you can thank ME for helping you out with this problem! Just send the offenders the link to this blog post. (You’re welcome.)
My grammer and speling aren’t so good. What if I make a mistakes?
If you are younger than twelve years old, you will be fully forgiven by the recipient of your thank-you, who will be so charmed by the note that criticism will only cross his/her mind if he/she is a real jerk him- or herself.
If you are a grown-up, get a dictionary. Ask a more abled writer to proof it for you. Type it into the computer to access grammar- and spell-check, then re-write it by hand.
Can’t I just write my note on the computer? Or send it by email?
A handwritten note is better than a typed note (unless you have a physical disability which precludes writing by hand), which is better than an email. But an email is better than no letter at all. Here’s a handy key to decoding thank-you notes written in various media:
Handwritten Note
This sender is well-bred, well-mannered, and possessed of a bright future.
Typed Note
Barring a writing disability, this sender is more time-conscious and goal-oriented than etiquette- or people-focused. Values ends more than means. May be a lawyer or banker.
This sender is probably a Millennial or younger. Appreciative, but has not acquired higher-order social graces. And probably doesn’t care.
No Note At All
Badly reared, egoistic cretin. Blames others for all his/her problems. Likely jail-bound.
My children aren’t old enough to write yet. Aren’t they exempt from thank-you notes?
Are they exempt from eating? From going to the bathroom? From wearing un-filthy clothes? No, they are not! You are the surrogate who feeds them and changes their diapers and does their laundry until they can manage these tasks themselves.
For babies and toddlers, you are responsible for writing the thank-you note. A delightful adaptation is to take a picture of the child with the gift, and write on the back of that.
If the child is old enough to wield a crayon, have him draw a picture of the gift received. Then you, parent, write a thank-you note next to it.
Older kids do the whole shebang themselves. At my house, starting December 27, there’s no TV and no electronics till the thank-you notes are done. (They get done really fast.)
But What If I Still Don’t Want to Write Thank-You Notes?
That is entirely your prerogative. Just like you can decide to not pay your utility bills. You may elect to ignore a court summons. You might also choose to shoot yourself in the foot, or any other appendage that seems a good target.
This is America the-land-of-the-free, after all. No one here will ever force you to become a respectable and upright human being. Golly, there’s a whole cadre of folks who travel the world while boldly waving their Ugly American banner.
So do what you feel is right. Don’t let me lay a guilt trip on you.
Though my children do say I’m really good at that.
(“You are, Mom.”)
Hey! You kids get back to the table and finish writing!
They’re going to thank me someday.


  1. Loved it! Hoping a comment will suffice, I'd like to thank you, Maria!

    1. Thanks, Guambalm! I think note-writing is becoming a lost art. Hoping it will be revived!

    2. I couldn't agree more! When I receive a handwritten Thank You note, I usually read it at least twice before I put it away to save forever. Here's hoping your article will speak to those who think a note is not important.

  2. My mom used to crack the "thank you note whip", too! Of course, I didn't like it at the time, but I eventually grew to enjoy it. And now my boys (6 and 9) are learning to write them, too--we usually get out decorative papers, pens and glitter and let them have fun making their own cards!