The “Season of Giving” is an apt name for the holidays. As the year comes to a close and the temperature continues to drop (well, maybe not this year in the Bay Area), giving comes in the form of special gifts, parties or hospitality. Generosity is a tradition during the holidays, one that can be counted on to continue year after year.
While the spirit of giving is unchanging, the way we express our gratitude is not. As email and social media continue to grow as the primary method of communication for many, the traditional, handwritten thank-you card is on the decline.
Many etiquette experts are appalled, and over the last few weeks I have seen several columns and op-eds about thank-you cards. A considerable number of experts argue that the handwritten thank-you card tradition must be continued, and some even labeled younger generations as entitled and ungrateful due to their abandonment of pen and paper.
In a Nov. 11, 2013, letter to Dear Abby, “Elinor in Surprise, Ariz.” wrote: “People: Don’t forget those thank-you notes! I don’t mean an email, but a real, honest-to-gosh thank-you note sent through the mail with postage. … This is especially true for young people today, who seemingly were not taught this in school or by their parents. … I can’t tell you how many parents comment on the absence of this display of etiquette. Good manners are never out of date. They are noticed and appreciated.”
I agree with the above letter writer and those who are advocating for the importance of manners. Having grown up with a mother whose impeccable penmanship graces many thank-you cards, I can recognize that thank-you cards not only are polite, but sincere. Taking the time to write out your appreciation is more powerful and meaningful than a simple, verbal “thank you” will ever be.
However, I don’t think it is possible for handwritten thank-you notes to make a comeback as the premier polite way of expressing appreciation. Among my peers, I’ve found that anything handwritten feels out of place.
But, even if handwritten thank-you notes no longer feel like the right way to express gratitude, manners are still just as important as they’ve always been. This holiday season, I said “thank you” in a couple of different ways, and found benefits in some methods that cannot be found in handwritten notes.
In recent years, my grandparents have preferred emails to thank-you cards because emails allow the easy attachment of digital photos. By sending emails instead of cards, I am able to express my appreciation in words and pictures. The bodies of my emails sound a lot like what my thank-you cards would say, and then I attach a picture of me using or wearing the gift I received. This is especially effective for saying “thank you” for a gift card. Emailing pictures of what I purchased with a gift card says more than “thank you”; it involves the people who gave me the gift in the next step of the process and prompts them to respond. I also send emails to most family members and all of my friends.
This holiday season, I also said “thank you” via Skype for the first time. Since my uncle was unable to make it to San Mateo for Christmas, my family used the webcam software to thank him for the gifts he sent us. While the talk started as a “thank you,” it grew into a complete conversation. While it did not replace his absence during the day, this 20-minute conversation was more special than a thank-you note would have been.
I still keep some personalized stationery for family members who are not quite as tech-savvy. While these notes are not interactive like emails or Skype, they still feel good, especially when getting letters in the mailbox is becoming less and less frequent.
In all, what matters is that you show sincerity and express “thank you” more than just in spoken words. How you choose to do so is up to you and your lifestyle. As “Elinor in Surprise, Ariz.” wrote: “Good manners are never out of style.”
This all being said, thank you for taking the time to read my columns in 2013, and cheers to a happy and healthy 2014!
Annika Ulrich is a senior at Aragon High School in San Mateo. Student News appears in the weekend edition. You can email Student News at firstname.lastname@example.org.