Thanks, but no fanks
Tamsin Kelly on the art of showing appreciation
Nothing quite puts the kibosh on the happy New Year like overseeing the production of three children’s thank-you letters. For many happy pre-school years, we got away with a drawing, a wobbly signature and a letter penned by me. Now, thank-you letters can stretch into the beginning of term. That first flurry of activity, armed with an arsenal of glitter pens and new letter writing kit, wanes to one laborious sentence a day. Even more painfully, my children are now at an age when writing “Fanks for the jiksaw” has slid from funny to frankly worrying.
“Why bother?” says one friend and godmother, who declared an amnesty on children having to write thank-you letters. “Just pick up the phone. Anyway, if your children do it, mine will have to, and life’s too short.”
But I still believe my potential pain is worth the pleasure relatives feel on receiving a thank-you letter. After my grandmother died, we discovered she had kept a drawer full of thank-you letters from her 13 grandchildren. Some were terse two-liners, some lengthy family chronicles; but all were obviously much treasured, even decades later.
“A little appreciation goes a long way,” agrees Jo Bryant, editor of Debrett’s Correct Form. “As soon as children are old enough, they should be encouraged to write thank-you letters. Nothing beats a nice, handwritten letter, with a little bit of padding as to why the present was special or what they’re going to do with it, and a piece of news. Make sure it’s not too flowery or false and that it’s written on good-quality plain paper with a nice pen, not a ballpoint. We recommend you should send letters within a week to 10 days after Christmas. If you’re really behind, you could make a holding phone call. But still write.”
Honesty is not the best policy when writing thank-you letters. The recipient does not want to know you’ll be swapping it for something more to your taste, already have one or have broken it, lost it or can’t remember what it was. In other words, try not to emulate my children’s favourite character, Horrid Henry. Infuriated by his parents’ insistence on writing five sentences to thank Aunt Ruby for a revolting lime green cardigan, he writes: “No thank you for the horrible present. It’s the worst present I have ever had. Anyway, didn’t some old Roman say it was better to give than to receive? So in fact, you should be writing me a thank-you letter. PS: next time just send money.”