As the holidays start to wind down, the string lights are packed away, and the inflatable reindeer processions deflate, we face the inevitable post-Christmas ritual, the thank you letter. There are many difficulties that may arise in the thank you letter process, mainly gifts that will likely be returned, re-gifted or left unused. There is a fine art to the thank you letter, especially in these cases, and I have developed a step-by-step guide that keeps the letter vague and yet seemingly personal, simultaneously maintaining the integrity of the writer and the good graces of the receiver.
After the initial obligatory greeting, I recommend inserting questions to distract from the cookie-cutter structure through a colloquial opening to engage the reader. Some good topics to inquire about include pets and hobbies. This sets the tone of the letter, so make sure your questions are the right balance of conversational and unmemorable, so that the reader is engaged, but not so engaged that they decide to write back or, worse, call. If you have any resentment towards the reader, this is the place to insert any passive aggression, preferably in the second or third question. That way it subtly reflects your internal feelings without leaving a lasting impression by hiding it in between a general query and affirmations.
The affirmations are perhaps the most important part of the letter. You want to stroke the ego of the reader as much as possible in this section. Begin with a general statement of appreciation. My go to is “Thank you so much for [insert gift here]!” The “so much” is highly recommended and the exclamation point is mandatory. In fact, I recommend that you punctuate exclusively in exclamation points when not asking a question. I find that this helps to hide any passive-aggression by making the reader unconsciously imagine you shouting the entire letter in an excited tone. In the affirmations section, include a statement about using the gift. You can make this as inexplicit as possible. If this is an article of clothing, put it on before you write the letter so you can say that you have worn it. If it is a book, read the first sentence so you can say that you have started it. If the gift is not palpable, like a certificate to lessons of some sort, briefly scan the website or go a brief Google so that you can say that you have researched it in anticipation and do not specify what you are anticipating.
Another great go-to statement, perfect for thank you letter ego-stroking, is how Christmas (or some other area of life) would not be the same without the gift. This statement can hide a sentiment of indifference through its simultaneously truthful, yet ambiguous nature which can be translated into profound gratitude, especially through the addition of expressive punctuation in the form of an exclamation point.
Finally, I recommend re-expressing thanks and wishing the reader a happy new year. “Happy new year” works up until the end of January, which is perfect for thank you letter procrastinators, since it gives the writer at least three solid weeks after the receipt of the gift to put a letter in the mail. The phrase is also pleasant, leaving a good last impression on the reader, yet being ambivalent enough not to solicit a response. It is the Christmas thank you note equivalent to the Facebook react– an amicable response that doesn’t stimulate further conversation.
My top tip beyond content is format. I highly recommend handwriting the letter in cursive, not just because it is a gesture which shows the reader that you put effort in the letter writing process. Cursive is like the Spanx of thank you letter calligraphy. It hides any misspellings through the amalgamation of loosely formed letters, but most importantly it can be used to hide any uncertainties you may have. This is especially useful if you don’t remember how a name is spelled or if you returned the gift already and may have forgotten certain details about the gift. Illegible cursive itself is an art form. It must be the perfect balance between random squiggles and realistic lettering. The ratio I tend to go for is 50% squiggles, 35% legible vowels, and 15% legible consonants. I recommend practicing your illegible cursive before your first attempt and also developing go to “words” with varied lengths.
In short, the key to the perfect bad Christmas thank you letter is a tone of pleasant apathy. Begin with neutral questions; then affirm, affirm, affirm. Finally, end with satisfactory well-wishing. And when in doubt, cursive it out. Good luck and happy new year!