June 29, 20130
Carolyn: I am confused over gift-giving etiquette with the current generation.
I have always been prompt in sending gifts, money, cards to my relatives for birthdays, holidays, weddings, births, etc. Yet none of these gifts has been acknowledged through mail, telephone or electronic means to (at least) notify me they had actually arrived.
I have always been prompt in sending a thank-you note or calling within a day or two of receipt regardless of the size or nature of the gift.
As a retiree on a fixed income, I am inclined to cease sending gifts and only send cards. Is expression of gratitude no longer in fashion? I would like to know what the current protocol is. Thank you.
P.: Short answer, nothing has changed. Recipients owe givers prompt thanks, in some form.
Long answer, everything has changed.
While it is rude not to acknowledge a gift, and while there seems to be an epidemic of silence by gift recipients, I think it's oversimplifying to add 1+1 and declare an epidemic of rudeness.
I think something else important has happened that doesn't get enough credit for the clear trend toward unacknowledged gifts: Stuff matters less.
When I was a kid about 1,700 years ago, it was a big deal to unwrap a sweater. New clothes were special.
Now, even for many who struggle financially, it's a yeah-whatever experience; people can now get sweaters (or books or knickknacks or any goods within the purchasing power of a gift card) 24-7, often without leaving home, sometimes so cheaply that a kid's dog-walking money would cover it.
As a result, many kids and even adults now are immune to their own possessions.
Despite the recession, Americans are largely staggering under the weight of their stuff.
I want the people who love me to show it by supporting my effort not to accumulate more and more and more.
If not for my sake, then the earth's.
And so I'm not just going to say yes, by all means, start sending only cards to mark your loved ones' special occasions. I'm going to throw it out there that we'd all do well to give our gift-giving habits a harder look.
Specifically, I think it's time to ask ourselves every time: Does this thing I'm about to buy have any chance of being important to its recipient? Does it get cash to someone strapped, free up time for someone busy, show support or appreciation for someone down, strengthen connections for someone lonely, provide a pleasant experience to someone who wants for nothing material?
Would this person prefer no gift at all?
Is there something only I can give, even just my thoughts, expertise or time?
If I'm not sure, then can I redirect my gift energy into keeping in touch more between birthdays and weddings?
Most of us can, and should, do better both at showing gratitude and teaching its value to "the current generation."
But we can also do better at listening to what changing mass behavior tells us, instead of just trying harder to make the old ways stick — or escalating the protests when they don't.
Email Carolyn at [email protected], or chat with her online at 11 a.m. Fridays at washingtonpost.com.
Washington Post Writers Group
By now you know you’ve got to send a thank you note for all of those wedding gifts (including the ones you get at your engagement party and bridal shower!), and that the best way to do that is to handwrite a card and put it in the mail. And yes, you have to say thank you even if it’s something you don’t love! If you get a gift that you’re planning to return, here’s how to show your appreciation for your loved one’s generosity.
Whether it’s a duplicate from your registry or an off-registry item that you simply don’t want or need, there’s bound to be at least one gift that you’ll be bringing back to the store. But returning a gift does not excuse you from writing a thank you note—the gifter still spent time and money picking it out, and even if you plan on putting those funds toward something else, it’s essential to acknowledge the gift they gave.
Start your thank you note by expressing your gratitude. If your wedding hasn’t taken place yet, thank the giver for thinking of you. Already married? Emphasize how wonderful it was to celebrate with them! Personalize the message with a specific moment you shared, whether it was on the dance floor or sipping coffee at your morning-after brunch. And don’t forget to mention that your S.O. loved seeing them, too!
Next, reference the gift. Specifically state what they gave you (i.e. “The cheese board you sent us is absolutely beautiful!”) so they know you got the gift. But here’s where you veer from the traditional format. Usually, you should talk about how you plan to use the gift (“We can’t wait to have you over to share some of our favorite cheeses and a glass of wine.”). But since you’re planning to return the gift, just skip this sentence entirely. Whatever you do, don’t mention that you’re planning to return the gift you were given. Focus on their generosity, and leave it at that. What you do with the gift later is your business, and yours alone. If your wedding hasn’t taken place yet, wrap it up with a line about how excited you are to celebrate with them soon, then sign off. You did it!
It was so wonderful to celebrate our wedding with you. I’m so glad I was able to find you on the dance floor when the band started to play our favorite song! And I’m so happy you were finally able to meet Andrew in person—he’s looking forward to your famous pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving already. Thank you so much for the picture frame. It was so generous of you to give us a gift, and we really appreciate your thoughtfulness. We are looking forward to many more opportunities to celebrate with you in the future!
Of course, the question is still what to do about the fact that you aren’t keeping the gift they gave you. We’ve all heard stories about pulling out unwanted gifts for a few days while the giver is in town (Even Emily Gilmore redecorated every time her mother-in-law came over!), but that’s no way to live. Instead, put the idea out of your mind entirely. This way you won’t feel inclined to make excuses that could get you caught in a fib. Anyway, a polite guest would never ask if they can see that gift they got you for your wedding, just for the sake of looking at it again!
A sincere thank you message is a great way to let someone know you Thank- you messages for gifts don't have to be super difficult to write. never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.
How do you tell people you won’t by buying them Christmas gifts this year? For your news to be well-received, you need to address both the practical and the emotional side of giving presents. You’ll find seven how-tos below for graciously telling them you won’t be giving them a gift this holiday season without being seen as a Scrooge.
By: Maralee McKee, Manners Mentor
Christmas Season begins earlier and earlier every few years. A generation ago, it started the day after Thanksgiving. A generation or so before that, our great-grandparents celebrated the 12 Days of Christmas. And go back about 100 years or so, and most people put up their Christmas tree on Christmas Eve for a two-day celebration.
But now, as soon as a pumpkin spice anything is back on the menu at Starbucks, you know that stores are decorating for the holidays, and Christmas sales are being touted as “Pre-Pre-Black Friday Bonus Days.”
If your budget requires you to cut back on holiday spending, or you just want a less gift-focused Christmas, and you plan to buy people fewer gifts or no gifts this year, the best time to tell them is NOW. It’s easier for them to accept the change in your annual gift-giving tradition before an early sale item catches their eye as the perfect gift for you than after they’ve put a bow on their box!
How do you get others to agree to not exchange gifts this year?
What do you say if someone gives you a gift after promising not to?
You know store-bought items count as gifts, but is it OK to give something you’ve made?
No need to fret. There’s a gracious way to spread the word that this Christmas you’ll be showing your love with well wishes instead of trinkets and baubles.
1. Set Their Expectations as Early as Possible
Thanksgiving dinner, when everyone is gathered around the table, might seem like a great time to discuss your gift-purchasing plans, but that’s actually a little late.
Why? Because, as we already mentioned, unlike in past generations, Christmas season now starts long before Thanksgiving Day. Once it begins, people tend to think more emotionally than economically.
Your relatives might already know what they plan to buy you, so they’re less likely to be receptive to your ideas.
Sure, you can draw names on Thanksgiving Day, but decide now with your family what the game plan and spending limit will be. This is best done through phone calls or emails because a text message, or worse yet a group text, doesn’t give you the bandwidth you need to share your reason(s) for changing your tradition of giving with the other person(s) with the littlest room for misunderstanding on their part.
2. Mention the Benefits for Everyone Involved of Buying Fewer (or No) Christmas Gifts this Year
When you broach the subject, if you talk about how you don’t have money to buy everyone a gift, the focus is on what this is doing for you, but not for them. Plus, if they have less money than you (or they think they do), but they still plan to buy as much this year as last, they may well think of you as Scrooge. And of course that’s not who you are at all.
What’s the solution? Mention how, with the economy being uncertain, you know everyone has been thinking about ways to save money. Let them know that being economical this year is the best gift everyone in the family can give each other.
Or, if your reason doesn’t have anything to do with finances, share with them what’s on your heart that promoted your decision. When people you know and love know your heart, they should be much more open to the change in tradition.
Be sure to let them know this has nothing to do with how you feel about them. It’s just that you would like this holiday season to be focused on the intangible but luxurious gift of relaxing with them and making memories with them instead of on exchanging tangible presents.
Start making your holiday plans with them when you have this conversation.
If they’re not open to the changes, well, at least you know you shared from your heart. There is nothing more you need to do, or that you can do.
3. Gather Your Supporters First — Other People in the Family Who Will Be Open to Not Exchanging Gifts This Year
Who in your family will be most receptive to the idea, and who will be the least? Contact the most receptive members first. Then, when you discuss it with the less receptive members, mention the others who are already on board!
“Aunt Janet, I was talking to Mom, Grandma, and Jackie, and we’re thinking it would be a nice change to just focus on buying gifts for the kids and teens.” Then go on to share what you discussed with the others and everyone’s reasons for the change.
4. Keep Your Word After You’ve Agreed Not to Give Someone a Christmas Gift
No falling off the gift-giving wagon once you’ve agreed not to give gifts!
I received an email from a woman who just couldn’t understand why her sister-in-law didn’t accept her gift graciously. They had agreed not to exchange Christmas gifts, but the woman who wrote me was much better off financially than her newlywed younger brother and his wife.
The young couple were about to move into their first home. Knowing they needed lots of things for the house, she gave them a $500 gift card. She wrote to me, “Christmas is all about giving. It gave me joy to share with them.”
Do you recognize the problem with her reasoning? The gift the young couple wanted most of all was “no gift.” She let her desire to “give” override the promise she had made. The good feeling she got from giving was her real motivation.
If her motivation had been to make them happy, she wouldn’t have broken her agreement and given them the gift – at least not at that time.
Grace Note: If you find something great for a relative, friend, or coworker, go ahead and buy it. Then wait and give it at a time when a gift in return isn’t expected! Save it for a birthday or anniversary, or make it an I’m-thinking-about-you-today gift that you give in a few months.
By doing this, you save the person the awkwardness of not having a gift to give you in return.
5. What to Do When You Unexpectedly Receive a Christmas Gift from Someone Who Agreed Not to Give You a Present
When someone surprises you with a gift, even though the two of you had agreed not to exchange them, accept it graciously. As you hold the gift, nicely say, “I’m surprised by your present. We had agreed not to exchange gifts, so I don’t have one for you in return.” Then you can open the gift and thank the other person. “This sweater is gorgeous, Pat! Thank you!” (It’s sometimes hard knowing the best thing to say while opening a gift. Here are Five Things to Say When Opening Christmas Gifts, and the Number 1 Don’t.)
Now you’re free to drop the subject.
Make sure not to buy the person a gift in return. Your word is your word; be true to it.
Perhaps next year, or the year after, when you continue to keep your word, the other person will get the hint.
6. How to Let Friends and Coworkers Know You’d Rather Not Exchange Christmas Gifts This Year
Agree now that this year, instead of exchanging gifts, you would like to spend time with the person. Plan a special weekend lunch, movie night, or a trip to a local holiday event where everyone pays their own tab. This way, you’ve made holiday memories! They’ll be enjoyed much longer than anything found in a store.
If your office usually exchanges Secret Santa gifts or participates in any gift-exchanging games, you could suggest that you change things up this year, and instead, everyone pitch in to give gifts to one needy child or family. Toys for Tots, The Salvation Army, and Angel Tree are three great places to start if you aren’t sure whom to connect with in your area.
7. How to Get Other Parents to Agree Not to Exchange Christmas Gifts Among Your Children’s Friends
Use the same method as number 5 above: plan a holiday-themed play-date of making cookies, building simple gingerbread houses, or crafting a gift for a family member. Or have everyone pay their own way to see a movie or enjoy a local holiday event. (When talking with other parents, here are The Five Manners of Great Christmas Party Conversations.)
When Giving Gifts, What Counts and What Doesn’t Count as a Christmas Gift?
Remember, if you’ve agreed not to give gifts, then everything counts, including: Christmas ornaments and decorations, potted plants and flowers, small items, handmade crafts, etc.
What can you give? Home-baked treats are a great option. As you give the goodies, you can say: “I was in the kitchen making these and thought of you. Consider it a home-baked Christmas card!” In this case, you can attach a Christmas card to the baked goods or place a card in the mail, but only if you typically send cards.
Until next time, do what only you can do. Bless the world around you by being you at your authentic best!
View all posts by Maralee McKee →
I've never liked thank you notes. Actually, I used to have zero emotions tied up in them . . . until I started making babies. Now, the sheer thought of those little cards fills me with dread, stress, and guilt.
That's because I'd fallen behind in writing them after my first baby shower and never caught up again. I loved when people brought gifts, of course, but it also meant tacking another item on to my never-ending to-do list. Finding time between diaper changes and nap schedules to write a coherent note of appreciation, locate a stamp, dig up an address, and actually stick it in a mailbox became arduous. I tried my best to get them all out, but some invariably slipped through the cracks. The shame was so consuming that I began quietly letting other new moms know not to return the favor. I'd bring a gift and say, "Please, if you write thank you notes, don't worry about it with this one."
When a blown-up version of that same sentiment took place at the baby shower of mom-to-be Laura Turner, I was intrigued. She took to Twitter to share the shocking thing a guest said in front of the entire room:
At first, I wanted to applaud this mystery woman for offering what we all secretly wish someone did at our own baby showers. What a relief to be off the hook for such a time-consuming task, especially when we're opening up the presents in front of those giving them! But, then, I had a vision of etiquette extraordinaire Emily Post rolling over in her grave, and I could just imagine the disappointed looks on the faces of all the great aunts at my shower if someone stood up and announced that the mom-to-be need not send them a thank you card for the gift they so carefully picked out, paid for, and wrapped.
I'm still torn, and it appears that the rest of us are, too. In response to Laura's tweet, women have chimed in with their own opinions on the matter:
Image Source: Flickr user dutchbaby
Do you think new moms should be exempt from writing thank you notes?
Yes, they have enough work to do already!
No, it’s rude not to express appreciation.
At my baby shower, a guest piped up before I opened presents: “Can we give you the gift of no thank-you notes?” It was a revelation.
Using words to express your gratitude for a gift is a great way to ensure that a generous person understands your thoughts and knows that their generosity mattered.
The following are examples of what you can write in a card or note when acknowledging a gift. Thank-you messages for gifts don't have to be super difficult to write. It's just a matter of putting together the right parts. Here are a few things to mention when saying thanks for a gift.
Including these will almost ensure that your message is an apt expression of your feelings. Keep in mind that you don't always have to write a lot in your thank-you card. Simple and concise messages can work well, too.
Below are two sets of example messages that show gratitude for gifts. One set of examples includes short messages, and the other includes longer thank-you notes.
Check out 16 of our "can't go wrong" thank you gift ideas. a thank you to someone who's done something special or just is someone special. Not to mention, taking the time to be thankful just sits well with the universe.
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