The gifts are open and you’ve finally started to relax into your post-holiday eggnog haze. But before you get too comfortable, remember there’s one last point to check off your holiday list: the thank you cards! These handwritten or emailed notes are important in showing gratitude and appreciation to those who took the time to think of you during the holidays.
Here’s how to approach the art of the thoughtful thank you card.
It’s recommended to send a thank you card within two weeks of receiving a holiday gift. Typically, your note should be sent out within a week of receiving the item or experience—which can include a dinner party—but whenever there are large amounts of cards to write, like around the holidays, two weeks is a much more manageable time period.
The major exception are thank you cards for weddings, which are allowed a more lenient time frame. Contrary to what you might have heard, thank you letters should go out within three months of the wedding date, not a year from it. The whole point of a thank you letter is to show gratitude and appreciation, so to send out a thank you letter a year after a wedding date might leave someone wondering if you received their gift at all. You want to avoid someone calling or emailing to inquire: “I just wanted to make sure you received our wedding gift.”
Email vs. Text vs. Hand Written
Whenever possible, a handwritten thank you card is always best, because it shows extra thought, time and effort. Especially in the digital age, handwritten thank you notes are more impactful and give added emphasis to what you are saying.
Never send a text as a thank you note, as it can come off very informal and even lazy. But do consider mirroring the gift with your response of gratitude. For example, if someone brought in baked cookies for the entire office, a nice email back to that person may be sufficient. If someone bought you a personalized gift, you want to show how grateful you are through a note that matches the level of thought they put into your gift; this is where an authentic and handwritten thank you letter is ideal.
You should send a thank you card to anyone who gives you a gift or invites you to a nice experience—the theatre, for example—or even a nice dinner.
When writing a thank you card to a boss, versus a family member, salutations and content should remain professional and more formal. Never use shortened words or text language, as this is an opportunity to show gratitude for not only the gift, but also your role in the company.
In a family thank you card you are much more likely to show affection and familiarity, however it’s recommended to stay professional—steer clear of any “xoxo”, smiley faces or casual lingo at the end!
Believe it or not, it’s not recommended to start a thank you card with the words “thank you.” This was a rule that even Jacqueline Kennedy followed in her many thank you letters. To write the most effective message of thanks, you want to make sure your thank you card sounds as genuine and thoughtful as the gift that was sent, so to mirror that, you want to use verbiage that strikes an emotional chord at first glance. Starting a card with “thank you” often finds people skipping through the sentences, as they already can predict the rest of the card. Instead, try using this formula:
Salutation: The formal way to start a card is Dear. The formal sign off is Best regards, Warmest regards or Best wishes. Sincerely is still used for letter writing, but not in emails, and Love is perfect for those nearest and dearest to you.
First Sentence: Something that strikes an emotional chord.
Second Sentence: What you enjoyed about the gift.
Third Sentence: Thank you.
Fourth Sentence: Provides a last thought.
End: Closing and Signature.
Here’s an example of an ideal thank you note, for Uncle Gordon who gave you a coffee maker.
Dear Uncle Gordon,
You clearly know how much I enjoy my morning mocha, and I could not be more thrilled with my new coffee maker! Every morning since Christmas I have been making the most delicious coffees for the entire family and love how easy it is to use. Thank you for such a thoughtful gift, which I assure you will be a household favorite. We’re so looking forward to seeing you on Easter, and please send my love to Aunt Mary.
Myka Meier is the Founder of NY-based Beaumont Etiquette and co-founder of The Plaza Hotel Finishing Program. Trained in part by a former member of The Royal Household of Her Majesty the Queen, Myka teaches dining, social and business etiquette, offering courses to adults, children and companies. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @mykameier