Thank Your Guests With a Handwritten Note
With so much of our communication being electronic these days, many people have lost the knowledge of how to handwrite a personal note. While a phone call, text, or email might be fine for most of our everyday messages, when it comes to thanking someone for a gift or favor, the only proper way to do it is to sit down and put pen to paper. Thank you notes are especially important for weddings, but they can be very useful at many other times in life as well. This is everything you need to know about the art of writing a gracious thank you note.
Every Bridal Shower Gift Deserves a Personal Note of Thanks
The bridal shower often signals the beginning of the flood of wedding presents. There is an unfortunate fallacy floating around that it is unnecessary for the bride-to-be to send written thank you notes for gifts received in person at the shower. This is just plain false! Every bridal shower gift received requires a handwritten note of appreciation, even if you thanked the donor in person. As the bridal shower is held before the wedding, personalized stationery should feature the bride-to-be's maiden name or monogram. Non-personalized fold-over note cards are also acceptable; just avoid ones with the phrase “Thank you!” emblazoned across the front. It is unnecessary, as you will be conveying that message with your note inside.
The stationery used for a bridal shower or wedding thank you note should be of fine quality. Cotton rag paper is ideal. It is more elegant to write with a roller ball or fountain pen than a ballpoint pen, and black ink is more formal than blue. The fold-over note cards that ladies use for their social correspondence are called informal cards, even though they are not at all casual. Although selecting paper and pen may seem like a lot of effort, it will be appreciated by the guest when they receive your very special note in the mail. The little things really do count in matters of social niceties.
The best way to make sure that you know who gave you which gift at your bridal shower is to assign one guest to take notes as gifts are unwrapped. The note taker ideally will know most of the guests at the party, which makes it easier for her to quickly jot down the name and gift as they are unwrapped. The bride's life will also be made much easier by selecting a note-taker with legible handwriting! The list of gifts need not be anything fancy or elaborate, just a brief description, such as “Aunt Cecelia—bridal jewelry and engraved silver jewelry box” or “Sarah—silver candlesticks.” The bride will have the gifts available to look at in person if she needs more detail to write a nice thank you note.
Follow This Format For Perfect Thank You Notes
While many people find the whole concept of writing a thank you note daunting, it is really not that difficult. There is a straightforward formula to follow, which takes a lot of the guesswork out of the task. Those elegant little informal note cards are rather small, meaning that a thank you note of four to six sentences will nicely fill the page; a novel of appreciation is not required! According to society stationer Crane's, a proper thank you note follows this formula: greeting, appreciation, mention of use, and a sign-off with mention of the future. Here is an example:
Dear Aunt Cecelia, (greeting)
It was wonderful to see you at my bridal shower! Thank you so much for your generous gift of my bridal jewelry and the engraved silver jewelry box. (appreciation) I love seeing my married monogram on the box, and it will be such a pleasure to wear the exquisite bridal jewelry on my wedding day. (mention of future use) Jack and I will look forward to seeing you in Nantucket for our wedding in June. (mention of the future)
Timing is important when sending out thank you notes for bridal shower gifts. They should be written and mailed out within about two weeks. It is easier to write a sincere note immediately after receiving a gift and much harder to do when the notes start to pile up. In addition, a prompt thank you note feels more genuine to the recipient, whereas a very delinquent letter really has the feeling of duty rather than appreciation. When your guests receive their thank you notes for the bridal shower gifts, the desired response is, “I just got the loveliest note from Susan today!” not, “Well, it's about time that bride sent out some thank you notes!”. Tip: best of all is when your future mother-in-law starts to hear from her friends what prompt and gracious thank you notes they received from you. Believe me, she will notice!
A Checklist Ensures Every Gift Received Gets a Note in Return
The bridal shower is only the beginning of the wedding gifts which most couples will receive. As the wedding date draws near, the UPS man will be a frequent visitor to your door, bringing gift after gift. It is vitally important that the bride and/or her fiancé keep up with the thank you notes for the deluge of wedding presents as they arrive. Keep track of each gift as it is received in either a notebook or a computer spreadsheet. The list should include the date the present arrived, as well as a place for you to check off as you mail out each note. This ensures that no guest's generosity will be overlooked. The last thing any bride wants is the hurt phone call from a guest calling to see if their gift was received “because I was worried it might have been lost in the mail.”
Proper Use of Social Stationery
As with bridal shower gifts, all wedding gifts received before the big day should be written on informal cards (fold-over notes) featuring the bride's maiden name, if personalized. If you are lucky enough to have a groom who is willing to write thank you notes as well, he should use flat note cards called correspondence cards, as informals are really ladies' stationery. The groom may have his name or monogram on his correspondence cards, or select boxed sets with a handsome motif, such as an embossed image of golf clubs or a sailboat, depending on his interests. A simple white or ivory card with a navy border would also be appropriate for the groom. It should be noted that business stationery should never be used for social correspondence, such as wedding thank yous.
Many wedding gifts will be received at the time of the wedding, and in that case, the thank you notes will not be sent out until after the couple has become married. If the bride is changing her name and wishes to use monogrammed stationery, all notes mailed out post-nuptials should reflect her new name. It may either be a monogram with her new initials, her full name without a title, “Madison Dell Smith” or her new title, “Mrs.” used with her husband's name, as in “Mrs. Carter Young Smith”. The latter is very traditional, and may not suit all tastes, but if the bride chooses to use it, the form of address is quite useful, because it indicates that she is taking her husband's name. However, it is not proper etiquette to use the wife's first name with the title of “Mrs.", so the new Madison Dell Smith (née Dell) would never have cards engraved reading “Mrs. Madison Smith”. Order your new cards at the same time as the rest of your wedding stationery, so you will be able to start writing thank you notes right away (a long plane ride to your honeymoon in Hawaii might be the perfect time to get the job done).
Sample Thank You Notes For Nice Gifts and Cash
Thank you notes are always written in the first person, although it is always nice to make a mention of your spouse. It should go without saying that only the bride or groom should write the thank you notes for their wedding gifts—they should never show up bearing the handwriting of the bride's mother! The note is from the person who wrote it, and only his or her name should be signed. In other words, a thank you note from Madison and Carter Smith would read as follows:
Thank you so much for the gorgeous set of crystal toasting glasses! The etching on the crystal is simply exquisite. Carter and I are looking forward to using them to toast many future special occasions together. We hope that you and Gregory will join us for dinner after we get settled back in from our honeymoon.
Madison (not “Madison and Carter”)
Gifts of cash and checks are very common for weddings these days and very popular among the couples who receive them! There is a special formula for writing notes of appreciation for cash gifts. Use a code word to allude to the size of the check, as in “thoughtful” ($25), “very kind” ($40ish), “generous” (around $50 to $75), or extremely generous ($100+). It is considered unseemly to mention the cash (or check) specifically. Instead, the note should mention what the couple intends to use the money towards. Select an item that is roughly equivalent in value to the amount of the check. For example, if you received a sum that was about the amount needed to purchase two place settings for your wedding china, the thank you note would go something like this:
Dear Mr. and Mrs. Young,
Thank you very much for your generous gift. Carter and I are looking forward to using it towards completing our set of wedding china. It will be so wonderful to have such elegant china upon which to serve our meals—Carter has been joking that it will even make my tuna casserole taste better! We are looking forward to seeing you both at Mary Beth and Andrew's wedding next month. Thanks again!
Madison Smith (she could also sign it “Madison Dell Smith” if she wanted to have her former name on the note to make it clear that it was from the former Madison Dell)
How to Write a Gracious Thank You Note for a Gift You Hate
So we all agree that cash is good, but what about the wedding gift that is a duplicate (“Look dear, another toaster came today!”), not to your taste (“Is this macrame?”), or just plain awful (as in a clearly re-gifted used item)? It matters not; the thank you note should still be approached with the same gracious tone as for the crystal Tiffany vase or the big fat check. In the case of the duplicate gift, it is quite easy: write a thank you note to each guest as if theirs was the only one of the items received, then discreetly exchange the extras. By the way, do not assume that just because you have a bridal registry, you will not be receiving any duplicates; many people refer to the registry like a wish list and then shop elsewhere for a lower price.
When a bride receives a wedding gift that she just plain does not like, it can be harder to write a sincere-sounding note expressing her appreciation, but nonetheless, it must be done. You may have to be more creative or bend the truth a little in the name of making the donor of the unwanted present feel good. For instance, let's say that the couple received a hideously ugly afghan from a dear old aunt. This would be the thank you note:
Dear Aunt Ella,
Thank you very much for the special afghan. I can tell how much time you put into crocheting it, and it was so sweet of you to make one of your famous afghans, especially for Kurt and me. The orange and yellow colors remind me of an autumn sunset, which is perfect since we are having a fall wedding. We can't wait to see you at our wedding next month. Thanks again!
Without ever lying and saying that she loved the afghan or thought it was pretty, the bride has managed to compliment her dear aunt for her thoughtfulness and color choices. Yes, it may mean that more unattractive handmade projects will be coming her way for future special occasions, but at least the bride will have made her aunt feel appreciated, which is the whole point of a thank you note.
Thoughtful Thank You Notes For Thoughtless Wedding Gifts
As for the wedding gift, which is truly crass or clearly re-gifted, there is also a polite way to choke out that thank you note. In the case of a gift that was in poor taste or just really inappropriate, use words like “creative” or “interesting.” In this example, the bride and groom, who are fitness fanatics, have received an ashtray as a wedding gift:
Dear Mr. and Mrs. Howard,
It was nice to see you at our wedding last month. Thank you for sending us the interesting ceramic dish. We will surely find many uses for it in our new home. Greg thinks we should fill it with Hershey's Kisses, but I think we should pick something less fattening, like some potpourri! It was sweet of you to think of us. Thanks again!
In this note, the bride has found a way to thank the donors for the thoughtless gift of an ashtray by deciding to mention other ways she would use the item in her house. This gets her out of telling a blatant lie: “The ashtray is so pretty that Greg and I have decided to stop running and take up smoking!” while avoiding the ugly truth: “That nasty thing is going straight to the rummage shop!”. Writing a thank you note is naturally more challenging when the gift was not enjoyed, but the bride and groom should still make an effort to graciously thank the donors, assuming that their intentions were good even if the present was not.
Practice Makes Perfect!
With practice, writing thank you notes for your wedding gifts becomes a breeze. The more of those notes you write, the more naturally the words will flow. Each and every one of your letters of appreciation will brighten the day of the person who receives it, just as their gifts brightened yours. Who knows, you might end up finding the art of writing a gracious thank you note so satisfying that it becomes a lifelong habit for all sorts of gifts and favors received.
Mary from Chicago area on September 17, 2014:
I am old school on thank-you notes! Email is wonderful, but there's nothing like a handwritten-on-paper note via snail mail. They really don't need to be long, just sincere and (if possible) specific. Great job here.