The fairy lights have finally been extinguished, the tree has been removed, the cornucopia of festive food in the fridge has been reduced to a few sad leftovers. The Christmas season is well and truly finished. As we confront the quotidian world of school runs, supermarket shopping, train strikes and crowded roads it is all too easy to put memories of feasting, fun and excess behind us and embrace the collective hangover that haunts us all in early January.
But before you beat a retreat, remember that there is one vital Christmas task that still needs to be completed (if you haven’t already done so) – the round of seasonal thank yous for presents and hospitality. Don’t let too much time elapse before you acknowledge generosity – it will inevitably look like a grudging afterthought, rather than genuine gratitude. A thank-you note will alleviate post-event feelings of anxiety, providing vital reassurance for gift-givers and hospitality-providers alike.
Traditionally, thank yous were always sent as handwritten letters – the deliberation and effort expended appeared to be commensurate with the gratitude experienced. Handwritten letters are probably still appropriate for older people who have not embraced texts or emails. The rest of us may choose this traditional option, send postcards or greeting cards, or emails. You can still follow the conventional format in all these media. If you choose to send a thank you by text or WhatsApp, it will inevitably be a much more cursory message. It is certainly better than no thanks at all but beware of sounding offhand or unappreciative – you don’t want to make light of what may have been a gargantuan effort.
Unless you have had an opportunity to thank the present-giver effusively in person, you should always send a thank you, even if you feel your presents were pathetic and the hospitality fell far short of your expectations. A thank you letter is not a certificate of commendation for a job well done; it is a social convention that serves to placate and reassure. It may well be used to relay genuine feelings of gratitude, but in less-than-ideal circumstances it will ensure that feelings of irritation and disappointment are safely stowed away and there is a consensus that everybody is satisfied. Remember, the person who bought the laughably inappropriate present, or served up the indigestible meal, was probably trying hard to do the right thing, and the effort made should certainly be gratefully acknowledged.
The basic principles of writing a good thank you are the same, whether you are responding to gifts or hospitality. For the thanks to sound heartfelt, you will need to express generalised gratitude, which should then segue into much more targeted and specific appreciation. This part of your letter can be the most challenging, especially if you were disappointed in a present or disconcerted by Christmas entertaining. But you must dig deep, find something positive to say, and sound as if you mean it. You can then move into more general news and round off your letter with a reiterated thank you.
Dear Will and Charlotte
Thank you so much for having us to stay this Christmas. It was so kind of you to take on the responsibility for the Christmas entertaining, and we all had a wonderful time. It was such a treat to be able to spend Christmas with all the family under one roof – I know it must have taken so much work and planning.
Opening general statement of thanks
We loved the ritual of drinking Buck’s fizz while we opened the presents and thought your insistence on taking the over-excited children out for a vigorous afternoon walk was absolutely inspired! It was so lovely to meet your neighbours when they came round for drinks on Boxing Day.
Specific highlights of hospitality are acknowledged
We got home in record time and enjoyed a couple of days of peace and quiet with the children before gearing up for New Year’s Eve and our traditional New Year’s Day visit to the pantomime. Everyone is now completely exhausted and dreading going back to school and work! I’m so glad you’re able to come to us in mid-February.
General news and offers of reciprocal hospitality
Once again, many thanks for your truly heroic hospitality.
Final reiteration of thanks
Emily and Charles
Thank you very much for your very generous Christmas present. It was just what I wanted. I really needed some new headphones as my old ones were sounding really crackly!
General statement of thanks
We’re going on a school trip to the Brecon Beacons at the end of January, and it will be great to have my headphones so I can listen to music on the coach journey.
I hope you had a good Christmas? We had a lovely time with Uncle James and Aunt Flora – it was great having Christmas by the seaside and we enjoyed watching the Christmas morning charity swim. I was able to practise skateboarding (my present from Mum and Dad) on the promenade.
News about Christmas
Next term I’m going to start football club on Saturday mornings, which will be fun. Mum says we’re going to come and visit you at half-term – I’m really looking forward to seeing you.
Further news and discussion about next meeting
Thanks again for the brilliant headphones.
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