As the season of thanks winds down, don't forget to write notes of appreciation to family members and friends who gave gifts or helped you out in special ways this year.
"It is certainly always appropriate and necessary to thank gift givers in person if they are there when you open gifts," says etiquette expert Marion Richter. "If the person who presented the gift is someone who is not living in the household, then a thank you note is always appropriate."
According to The Emily Post Institute (http://www.EmilyPost.com), members of older generations probably will expect handwritten thank you notes, even if the gifts were presented in person.
Thank you notes can be creative. Grandparents, especially, love hand-illustrated note cards or thank you cards that include photos of grandchildren with the gifts they received. It remains important to include a short handwritten thank you, as well.
"In some households, the child is not allowed to play with the toy or use the gift until he or she writes the thank you note," says Richter, who has retired from conducting business and social etiquette training for the Midwest region of Bank One (now JPMorgan Chase) and now teaches etiquette classes to both children and adults in Illinois.
Usually, a note should be sent within two or three weeks, she says. "Remember, however, that a late note is better than no note at all. If you send it out after a few weeks, simply write, 'I'm sorry I'm late,' and then go on with the appropriate phrases of thanks."
Richter offers a formula for writing sincere notes:
Begin with a greeting, making sure to use the person's name. The first sentence should thank the person for the gift using the specific name of the gift and a descriptive word or two. The second sentence should include one of the things you like about the gift and how you plan to use it. The last sentence simply can say, "Thanks again." Then sign your name.
Both Richter and The Emily Post Institute promote sending a note of thanks whether or not you personally like or even will use the gift. "No matter how disenchanted you might be with the gift, you can still find something redeeming to write about it in a thank you note," Richter says.
"For example, you could say, 'The color reminds me of the time we spent on the shore' or 'I'll think of you every time I wear it.' Remember that you don't have to say how often you will wear it, and you are not obligated to display something prominently in your home."
If you feel at a loss for words, you can borrow ideas from a book, Richter says. She recommends the recently published "101 Ways To Say Thank You: Notes of Gratitude for All Occasions," by Kelly Browne (Sterling, 2008).
Richter says people often wonder whether it's OK to e-mail, text or tweet thank you notes. "Handwritten notes are always my first preference, particularly if you are sending it to an older person," she says. "I know many grandmothers regularly use e-mail, but unless your grandmother is an avid e-mailer or texter, those kinds of notes should always be handwritten.
"If you are sending a note to someone you normally communicate with electronically, I would say an e-mail is acceptable if you received a smaller item," Richter says. "But e-mails and texts don't have the same permanence of handwritten notes."
Some folks might even make New Year's resolutions to write more notes of appreciation. Richter suggests writing a thank you note when a person does you a favor, provides you with guest accommodations, interviews you for a job, offers you good advice or nominates you for an award -- or when a teacher has done a great job. Of course, thank you notes are always appropriate responses to gifts received for graduations, weddings, showers, birthdays, Mother's Day and Father's Day.
"Thank you notes can set you apart and make a huge difference," Richter says. "It costs so little and takes such little time. No matter what you say or how you say it, thank you notes are magical."