Most of us haven’t sent out thank-you cards since we were given a lot of money by our parents’ friends for graduating or getting married, but the way you show your appreciation as a real live adult still says a lot about you. It says even more if you never show any at all.
Yes, thank-you notes can seem outdated, unnecessary, and even intimidating given that texts and emails exist immediately at your fingertips, but a little thought goes a long way. Whether you have a hundred to write, or just a few after the holidays, a little refresher on the rules is good. So let’s give you some confidence to get it done right, and polite.
Sorry, there aren’t hacks to streamlining the process, but while you may dread the slog of sincerity, thank-yous aren’t that difficult. For guidance, we turned to the wisdom of Emily Post and her descendants, whose family crest may as well read “social grace, perfected.”
1. Not Everyone Gets a Note
Here’s the big, relief-soaked moment for everyone who can hear their mother nagging them to write these dozens of communications lest everyone hate them: You don’t always have to send a note, let alone a handwritten one. The jist: “You should send a written note any time you receive a gift… and the giver wasn’t there to be thanked in person.”
You’re off the hook with everyone who watched you tear wrapping paper, and addressing envelopes to everyone who was there sipping coffee when you woke them loudly sprint to the Christmas tree at 7 a.m. is officially excessive.
2. Not All of Them Have to Be Hand-Written
You may want to be sincere about your best friend’s hilariously spot-on gift because it really, truly was your favorite, but you don’t have to track down that box of stationery to let them know. Every holiday gift from someone you normally correspond with by email is approved for an electronic thank-you.
You’re on the hook for things like condolences, and gifts that aren’t part of an expected gift exchange. But with the holidays you get a little leniency. Use it to your advantage.
3. A Quick Response is Appreciated
You don’t need to craft a thoughtful response before actually playing with your new toy, but getting something in the mail within a few days is a good rule. While wedding and consolation thank-yous buy you a few weeks of leniency, holidays and birthdays stick you on the hook. A good standard is to acknowledge Christmas or Chanukah gifts before New Year’s Day.
For those who travel a lot during the holidays, let’s quietly agree that the new year begins when we can sign something without getting the year wrong. In other words, there’s still time. Plus, people expect that things will be delayed in the mail by all of those federal holidays.
4. Make It Simple, But Not Formulaic
Post gets into a lot of detail about tone and resisting the urge to gush, but the key is to be personal (mention the gift), to be enthusiastic (show a little excitement here), and to be concise. “A handwritten thanks is often as short as three sentences, just like an email,” writes Dan Post Senning. “If you want to talk about your bike trip last summer, do it in a letter. The thank-you note is special; it’s to express your appreciation, so keep the focus there.”
5. If You Get Money, Don’t Say How You’ll Spend It
Maybe you’ve spent it on something noble, like a great bottle of wine to celebrate with your partner. But maybe your aunt, who gave you that hard-earned money, hates your partner. Point is, keep things abstract. You can thank them for the amount (if they sent cash, it’s a good way to assure them it arrived intact), but the second they have a concrete idea of where it was used, it can go downhill.
6. Do Better Next Year
Seriously. It’s stamps, a pen, and stationery. How hard is that to have on hand? You can do better. We’ll even give you a help finding the stationery, thanks to style icon Billy Reid.
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