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Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Thank You Cards, A Thing of the Past?

Thanks to my mother, writing thank you cards is practically a reflexive action. I remember when I was young, she would bring out all the supplies the day after my birthday parties and put me to work. Basically the rule was that you didn't go anywhere until the cards were completed.

This discipline has continued to serve me well into my adult life, although I'm embarrassed to say that after my babies have been born I've been somewhat delinquent with thank you card writing, often leaving my gifts unacknowledged for a number of weeks. Someone once called me to ask if I received the gift since they did not get a card. For me this was very embarrassing. Maybe I just felt embarrassed since I had all of our wedding thank you cards in the mail no later than a month after our wedding, even though Miss Manners gives one year or so I'm told. [Update: My readers are far more familiar with Miss Manners and have informed me that a couple has a few weeks to put out the Thank You Cards and gift givers have a year to give their gifts].

I don't keep a running count, but I have noticed that we do not always receive acknowledgement for our gifts. My guess is that we receive more Bar Mitzvah acknowledgments than Wedding acknowledgments. And I believe we are running a near zero on birthday acknowledgements, while birth/brit milah acknowledgments are hit or miss. My husband points out that most of the birthday gifts are for family members, but that never made a difference to my parents. But maybe this is just a convention I'm unaware of.

Questions for my readers: Am I the only one not receiving acknowledgment often enough to notice? Do you insist your children write thank you cards (where capable)? Do you help them where they are not capable? Do you write thank you cards for gifts you receive? Do you write thank you cards to your own parents and/or in-laws?

Or, alternatively, are you of the opinion that thank you cards are "old fashioned" and an oral acknowledgement is enough?

Just in case you are interested, we help write the thank you cards for our kids and plan to continue to insist that gifts be acknowledged in writing. It is just the way I grew up and writing thank you cards is an ingrained habit. But, I'm learning that this custom is by no means universal, so I try not to take offense at the lack of acknowledgment.


miriam said...

How about this perspective: I think I'm supposed to and that my kids are supposed to, but I'm really bad at making sure it happens.

True confession: I wrote all my wedding thank yous, and sealed and stamped them, and never posted them. A year later I found them when we moved, opened them all to add a note about our new address, sealed them again... and still didn't wind up sticking them in the mail. We've moved several times since then, and I still have them in a box somewhere, 11 years later. sigh.

Ariella said...

I haven't seen Miss Manners on Thank you notes, but I did research it a while back. The most machmir opinion calls for the notes to be sent within weeks after the wedding, but some allow three months. A whole year was not offered as a choice by etiquette experts. But it is one of those things that is better late than never. I still have to get my son to write 2 more Thank you notes for the bar mitzvah gifts that came in late.

Ariella said...

One more official etiquette point: part of the reason Thank you notes are called for is to let the sender know you received and appreciate the gift. So there are those who say, technically, one is not required for a gift opened in front of the sender. Nevertheless, it is considered good form to send the written note.

RaggedyMom said...

I'm with you, SL. I think thank-you cards are good form and basic manners, and I try to be careful about sending them, particularly for major occasions, eg our wedding and gifts we received when our kids were born. I do sometimes extend the practice to gifts any time we receive them, unless I feel certain that the giver will feel this is overdoing it.

Even in terms of verbal thanking, there are discrepancies among styles. For example, any time my parents do something particularly nice for us or give us something, I tend to thank each of them and also acknowledge it again at some later time (like when a gift is used or spent - "thanks again for . . .").

Whereas in RaggedyDad's family, I've learned that over-thanking one's close family is considered overly formal and even borders on insinuating that the relationship isn't as close as it may be. I once thanked my mother-in-law and RD's grandmother a few extra times for a meal they helped me prepare at our house, and they asked him why I kept thanking them as though they were strangers - favors like that are expected I guess.

To answer your question, I find that I'm getting sparse or very late thank-you cards for gifts lately. It does kind of irk me.

t.. said...

I've often wondered if there's an unwritten code that "allows" wedding 'thank yous' to be sent within one year of the event. Baby gifts?

Bar and Bat Mitzvah is very interesting-- I think that it would be a great exercise in improving penmanship and writing style, especially with the push by schools for youngsters to use computers earlier than ever before and use them for writing essays and school papers. There is a special, personal quality of a handwritten note. With most correspondence in the form of text messages or "IMs" for the teens of today, it is welcome and refreshing to get a handwritten note of thanks and appreciation.

My parents insisted that we write thank you notes after our Bar and Bat Mitzvahs. I remember my parents suggesting that my brother write a set number (say 5 or so) per day to get them done.

As "impersonal" as some people may think these types of notes are-- I feel that it's inappropriate not to send a proper acknowledgement for a gift-- whether it's a check, seforim, etc. As mentioned by RaggedyMom, if it's known that certain family members don't think that notes are appropriate because they seem sterile, perhaps it makes sense to see to it that the kids do make some sort of acknowledgement of the gift-- by phone,in person or some other medium.

I can't wait for video thank yous posted on youtube or onlysimchas.

Ari Kinsberg said...

"Or, alternatively, are you of the opinion that thank you cards are "old fashioned" and an oral acknowledgement is enough?"

i don't want to sound lame, but letter-writing in general is old fashioned.

also, today thank you cards are such a formality that they do not mean anything. i'm not saying we don't them, but . . .

Ari Kinsberg said...

where is your email?

t. said...

that's exactly it, it may be "old fashioned"-- but shooting off an email/IM/txt msg takes no real's a personal touch that you can't get with all the high tech equipment out there.

Ari Kinsberg said...


i agree that it is more personal (and classier as well), but it is still old fashioned.

mother in israel said...

I was good about thank you notes including for baby gifts, but they are not standard in Israel. I confess that most of the thankyou cards for bar/bat mitzvahs of my kids did not get sent.

Shoshana Kordova said...

I think thank you cards should still be sent, but have found that as an American living in Israel and married to a South African, I fall somewhere in the middle of the gratitude spectrum.

Israelis seem to pretty much have no concept of thank you cards, and that often extends to olim. I'm not sure what the S. African take on cards is, but my husband seems to think that a thank you phone call the week after going to a Shabbat meal is appropriate (not that he always does it), though I see it as completely excessive and, well, kinda weird.

ardbeg78 said...

Um, If I remember correctly, Miss Manners says that the appropriate time to send a written acknowledgment is "30 seconds after you receive a gift." I don't recall her making any exceptions for wedding gifts. That said, I think that she would be appalled at the size of weddings in our community, which may make sending all acknowledgements immediately difficult, but it is inexcusable to wait a year. We had all of ours out (for gifts we received at our wedding) within 15 days, and gifts we recevied later within a day, as required. In terms of birthday and other gifts from close relatives, although technically, you are supposed to acknowledge them in writing, our family, for whatever reason, doesn't, so I have never taken up the practice. But gifts from non-family members should certainly be acknowledged immediately.

SephardiLady said...

Ari-My email is in my profile. . . Orthonomics at Gmail dot com. Please email me.

Thanks for the comments. It is interesting to see what subjects resonate and which don't. I see this one does.

Ariella said...

And back to the point of training: from the age at which my children could write, I had them write their own Thank You notes for gifts they had received for birthdays, Chanukah, etc. Not to send acknowledgement can be considered rude, and the one who thinks such formalities outdated may seriously offend the gift giver. They will think that they took the time to get you the gift, so the recipient should carve out a minute to write a Thank you.

Scraps said...

I used to be much better about thank-you cards; my parents used to make me write them after getting birthday presents and certainly for all of my bat-mitzvah gifts. Unfortunately, I fell out of the habit sometime during high school, but I definitely plan on writing thank-you cards for wedding gifts when (someday, iy"H) I get married.

Anonymous said...

Here in Israel things tend to be less formal. For instance, in my circles invitations are hand delivered to people who live withing walking distnce of you. However, I am attempting to have my son acknowledge his Bar Mitzvah gifts - by e-mail. (We recently attended a Bar Mitzvah were the invitation was sent only by e-mail.)

Yes hand written notes are nice, but I know that will never happen. This way at least there is some thank you communication.

I think thank you notes are appropriate for weddings and Bar Mitzvahs, where you don't generally thank the giver in person. For other occasions, I think verbal thanks are generally sufficient.

Ezzie said...

SL - I don't think it's in your profile anymore; when you upgraded to BloggerII it loses it.

Anyway, I had all my bar-mitzvah notes out within 6 weeks. My wedding... I started off well, getting out all the family ones. Serach did all of hers, offered to do the rest of mine. But I like making it "real" - personalizing it, etc. After a year of me pushing it off (!), Serach finally did them for me.

It's embarrassing when some come back and you don't realize, then get a call.

I think it's much more expected by BM's and weddings; much less so by babies, etc. For birthdays, we call and thank my grandparents; a letter would be too formal at this age. Unless it's a kid who you're trying to teach manners to, I think it's better not to write a letter (a la RM above). Baby gifts I think deserve a letter, but they're generally close friends/family, and generally given in person, so it feels weird to then send a formal thank you - it's one of those that if we send a gift, our attitude toward a thank you would be "if you do, you do, but if you don't, we're not offended at all."

Am Kshe Oref - A Stiff-Necked People said...


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David said...


Just to correct a little confusion, Miss Manners says that one should write a thank-you note for receipt of a wedding gift within weeks. The "one year" figure is the time for the giver to give a wedding present.

I stink at thank-you notes, and am thus thrilled that my wife is both adept and concientious with them. We both think that it's a wonderful custom which is sadly going out of fashion, and we fight that trend.

Jameel @ The Muqata said...

Even though the above commenter wrote about Israel being less formal (which it is), we encouraged our son to write thank you notes for them all.

My wife told him she would write any thank you cards in his exchange for the gift that came with it :)