written by: Linda K. Beech – Cottonwood District Extension Agent, Family and Consumer Sciences
The month of May is an especially busy season for gift-giving: graduations, Mother’s Day, baby showers, bridal showers, weddings, and other special occasions.
When we give someone a gift, we try to choose something we feel they will really like. We wrap it nicely and present it to them with great expectations. We can’t wait to see their reaction and their “thank you” is music to our ears.
The people who give gifts to us feel the same way. They want to know that their gift was received and that we enjoyed it. The best way to acknowledge the gift and express appreciation to the giver is with a written thank you note.
Proper etiquette says that for any gift received, a thank you note should be sent as soon as possible. Even in the same town between relatives, a short written thank you note acknowledging the gift and the giver should be sent within a week, if possible. A handwritten note is best, but a printed note with an original signature is an acceptable option. Do not use e-mail to send a thank-you note. A verbal thank-you can be made in addition to the written note– but not in place of it.
The Basic Etiquette of Thank You Notes
A thank you note is an expression of appreciation for a gift or thoughtful act. But the potential formality of this situation can be intimidating. Many people think that the wording has to be perfect, and this causes so much anxiety that sometimes the notes are never sent. Before all the other rules, just remember that an imperfect note that comes with heartfelt sentiment is better than a perfect note that was never written.
In order to relieve some of the anxiety on this subject, here is a simple guide to the do’s and don’ts of thank you notes:
The Do’s of Thank You Notes
Do send your thank you notes as quickly as possible. Notes may be sent on informal stationery, except for wedding thank you notes which are generally sent on formal stationery. Always make specific reference to the gift that is the subject of the note, such as “Thank you so much for the blue sweater. How did you know blue was my favorite color?”
Always send notes in the following situations:
- For wedding gifts.
- For sympathy flowers, memorial contributions or mass cards.
- To the hostess after a party that was hosted in your honor.
- For bridal or baby shower gifts.
- For gifts that were received by mail.
- After being entertained by your boss.
- For gifts received during a hospital stay.
- After being hosted as a houseguest for one or more nights (unless it’s a close relative or friend who is doing the hosting).
Thank you notes are not required in the following situations, but would still be a nice gesture:
- After being a guest at a dinner party.
- After a job interview (not required, but definitely a smart idea).
- When a friend has helped you out with a special favor such as babysitting, a meal when you were sick, or running errands for you.
The Don’ts of Thank You Notes
Don’t delay in sending thank you notes. Generally notes should be sent within a week of receipt of the gift or gesture. Being busy is not an excuse for neglecting a written thank you. To tell someone (who has spent time and money on a gift for you) that you are too busy to acknowledge their efforts is bad manners. The only exception to this timing is thank you notes for hospital gifts which should be sent as soon as the patient is well enough to send them, whenever that is.
There’s no need to fib if you dislike a gift. Even if something is not to your taste, you should still show appreciation for the gift and the time, money and thought that went into selecting it for you. You can always say “Thank you for the thoughtful gift. I will always think of you whenever I see it.”