- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 25, 2004

Leigh Burke, 22, of Alexandria, says all holiday gift givers deserve a thank-you note — whether the gift was kept, regifted, exchanged or donated to charity.

“I’m always grateful when people think of me, and thank-you notes are the best way to let people know you appreciate them,” Miss Burke says.

Today is an excellent day to start writing those thank-you notes for holiday gifts from family and friends, says Robyn Freedman Spizman, author of “The Thank You Book — Hundreds of Clever, Meaningful and Purposeful Ways to Say Thank You.”

“Timing is critical. Particularly, if they sent you a gift — they’ll want to know if it arrived in one piece,” Ms. Freedman Spizman says. “If you don’t have time to write, call them and then follow up with a thank-you note.”

The only time it’s OK not to send a thank-you note is when the giver can be thanked in person, she says. Even then, a thank-you note is always appreciated and never wrong, she says.

Elizabeth Howell, spokeswoman at the Emily Post Institute in Burlington, Vt., suggests that the thank-you card should be in the mail before New Year’s.

“You know you’re going to get gifts, so be ready. Buy yourself stationery early,” Ms. Howell says.

The Emily Post Institute was started in 1946 by manners authority Emily Post. Today, it’s run by third-generation family members. It aims to serve as a “civility barometer” for American society.

Because children often receive many holiday gifts, they, too, should be ready with crayon and stationery in hand, Ms. Howell says.

“Just make sure you are looking at where they are developmentally,” she says. “A 3- or 4-year-old, for example, can draw a picture, and when they get a little older, they can start signing their name. … The earlier you start involving them, the more natural it will be as they grow older.”

Grandparents often are very generous during the holiday season and deserve a little extra attention, Ms. Freedman Spizman says.

“I recommend that children pick out or make special grandma stationery. That will really mean a lot to grandma,” she says.

Ms. Howell and Ms. Freedman Spizman agree that it’s important for children — and sometimes adults — to learn how to show gratitude and not take gifts for granted.

“That’s what thank-you notes are all about. It’s about sharing your gratitude, about showing a person you were moved that they thought about you,” Ms. Freedman Spizman says.

In fact, a thank-you note can become a gift in itself, she says.

“You can save it, reread it. It makes gift giving a two-way street,” she says.

What’s in a note?

A holiday thank-you note can be kept short and simple, but it should include something about the gift, Ms. Freedman Spizman says.

“The giver will want to know if you liked it. So, tell them, did you eat it, smell it, like it?” she says.

Miss Burke says she definitely includes something about the gift in the note.

“And if it’s money or a gift certificate, I write what I am going to buy with it,” she says.

Including that type of information gives the giver a connection to the gift, Ms. Howell says.

If the recipient doesn’t like the gift, however, it can be better not to describe it, she says.

“Try to pick out something nice about the gift,” Ms. Howell says, “but if you can’t find anything nice to say, focus instead on acknowledging the effort that went into it.”

Ms. Freedman Spizman agrees.

“You focus on the relationship instead,” Ms. Freedman Spizman says. “The giver tried to please you — maybe they weren’t successful — but they tried, and that’s something to be grateful for,” she says. “You could say something like, ‘I appreciate the time and attention you always give me,’ instead of focusing on the gift.”

In responding to an unwanted gift, recipients should ask themselves whether it’s worth risking hurting someone’s feeling for the sake of honesty, Ms. Freedman Spizman says.

“What is it you want to get across? That you didn’t get exactly what you wanted or that you were moved that they thought about you?” she says.

Also, Ms. Freedman Spizman recommends being creative with the thank-you notes.

“Have fun — include pictures, poems. Give them a personal touch,” she says.

Whether it’s a thank-you note in response to the best gift ever or the worst gift ever, a memorable thank-you note says something about the giver that’s unique and heartwarming, Ms. Freedman Spizman says.

“Great notes compliment the giver and celebrate the relationship,” she says.

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