The etiquette of writing thank you cards

Posted on Aug. 31, 2015 by in Mail and more

In the modern, electronic era, it might feel old fashioned to hand-write thank you cards. Yet there are some special gift-giving occasions that definitely call for them, such as a wedding, anniversary or bar mitzvah. Since it’s no longer something we do every day, many of us are left wondering how—and when—to write a thank you note. These tips should take the mystery out of thank you card etiquette.

Are thank you cards out of fashion?

It may seem that the art of writing a gracious thank you card has gone out of fashion, harking back to a more formal time. But not long ago the New York Times wrote that thank you cards are “on trend” because they convey more emotion than electronic communications. An email or text can be jotted off quickly—without even spelling out full words—and is deleted just as fast. Putting the time into hand-writing a thank you note shows more thought and appreciation toward the recipient than an email or even a phone call. There may even be something in it for you too: the paper also reports that people who show gratitude may sleep better, suffer less anxiety and enjoy better overall health and satisfaction in life.

When should you send a thank you card?

According to the Emily Post Institute, “it’s never wrong to send a written thank you.” The authority on etiquette says that even if you thanked someone in person, you should still send a note after you receive wedding, bridal shower and other congratulatory gifts or cards. Gifts received during an illness and gifts or notes of condolence should also be acknowledged in writing, however a friend or relative can take care of this on behalf of the recipient.

Send a thank you note as soon as you can after the occasion, says Entertaining.com, and consider sending thank yous after dinner parties, spending a few nights as a house guest, after receiving a birthday gift and after being entertained by your boss.

Tip: Hallmark recommends keeping appropriate stationery and stamps at the ready so you have no excuse to delay expressing your thanks.

Special tips for wedding thank yous

Between engagement parties, bridal showers, stag-and-doe parties and the wedding itself, a happy couple has a lot of thank you card writing in store. Bridal Guide recommends spreading out the work by sending thank yous for:

  • engagement and shower gifts within 2 to 3 weeks of the event
  • early wedding gifts before the big day
  • all remaining notes within 3 months of the wedding

And yes, if someone gave you a gift for 2 different events, you do need to send 2 separate notes, and individual thank yous to each person who participated in a group gift. Others to keep in mind:

  • wedding party/attendants
  • friends and family who contribute in a big way (e.g., setting up decorations, housing out-of-town guests)
  • those who host parties or events in your honour
  • any vendors who go above and beyond to make your day special

Make your task easier by saving the wedding guest list—including names and addresses—to use later for thank you cards. TheKnot.com suggests you can even record the gift right on the same page to have a master thank you list. Be specific when noting down a description of the gift. Received 4 crystal vases? Write down something unique about each one so you can mention the item in your card.

If you have a lot of cards to send, you’ll find it easiest to buy your stamps in coils. But bear in mind that not all stamp designs are available in coils. If you want to add a whimsical touch to your cards or match your wedding theme, you will have more designs to choose from if you buy booklets of stamps.

Tip: When you order your wedding stationery, make sure the thank you card is an acceptable size for mailing.

How to write a thank you card

Emily Post says “a gift should be acknowledged with the same courtesy and generous spirit in which it was given.” Personalize your note by using the name of the giver and mentioning the gift. If the gift was cash, you don’t need to specify the amount, but it is nice to say what you’re going to do with the money.

Another way to add a personal touch is to print custom cards or personalized postage using your own photo or design. Use a photo taken at your special occasion, or use a design that reflects your personality.

Be sincere in your thanks but don’t gush. And don’t mention if you plan to return or exchange the gift. Entertaining.com says even if you don’t like the gift, you can still thank the person for the thought that went into selecting it.

Keep your note fairly brief. SouthernLiving.com recommends you write a separate letter if you want to share news from your life and ask about theirs. Do put a little heart into your message, Hallmark.com says, and make the giver feel good about themselves and what they did for you.

Teaching kids to write thank you notes

Teaching your children to write thank you notes not only teaches them good manners, it helps them learn to express gratitude, according to Parents.com. You don’t need to make this an onerous task: make it fun by letting your kids choose the stationery and the stamp and then go to the post office or put it in the mailbox themselves. Kids can also create their own stationery. RealSimple.com has some great ideas for crafting unique cards.

For kids who can write, the Emily Post Institute offers a few tips:

  • allow children to be creative in any way they want as long as the recipient won’t be offended or confused
  • don’t try to write too many notes in one sitting—allow enough time to take breaks or spread the task out over a few days
  • depending on your child’s penmanship, you may want to address the envelope for them
  • give positive reinforcement for a job well done

For children who can’t write, allow them to do whatever they can: draw, scribble or write their name. Even just talking about the gift, the giver and what to say in the note will get them thinking about gratitude.

What’s the nicest thank you card you’ve received? Tell us about it in the comments below.

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