This afternoon, you will all be engaging in one of the most charming Christmas rituals: writing letters of thanks to those generous people who have sent you presents.
Well, better that than having to put the task on your list of New Year's resolutions.
To guide you, Miss Manners hereby provides you with a sampling of Rotten Thanks. Those whose kindness is habitually received in silence will say that any acknowledgment is better than none -- but, as you will see, this is not necessarily the case.
Foremost among these are letters in the category of "Thanks, I Hate It." A Gentle Reader passes along one that came in response to being given a basket of fruits and sweets:
"I know that this probably cost a mint, so it makes me feel very guilty when I throw it all in the trash. One year I took a bunch of sweets to the women and children's shelter here in town, but I was appalled when I saw that almost everyone in there was morbidly obese. So, I never took another. There is really not one soul who lives in this house who can eat those sweets with reckless abandon -- all of us have weight issues. If you can't steer away from sending these, PLEASE do not worry -- I will just continue to throw it all away. (I did keep the six pears.)"
Then there is the category of "Don't Think You're Finished Shopping." Another Gentle Reader submitted the thanks she got for giving a sweater that she had seen the recipient admire:
"I'm sending this back, because even though the size is OK, I like to wear things bigger, but the real problem is the color. What were you thinking? I hate blue! I didn't see a gift receipt, and anyway, you live nearer to the mall than I do, so I would appreciate a larger one in medium green, not too dark and certainly not that awful yellowy green. You can send me pictures from the store if you're not sure."
Finally, there is the "I Really Can't Be Bothered, but OK, Thanks for Whatever" mass mailing. A Gentle Reader received such a one in the form of a Christmas card from a couple to whom she had sent a wedding present the previous spring.
She describes it as a photographic montage of the couple at their wedding and on their honeymoon, on which was printed, "As you can see, we've been kinda busy this year, but we want to say Merry Christmas and thanks for your presence, those of you who made it to our fabulous wedding, and thanks for your present."
If these do not warm hearts and inspire continued generosity, you might revert to the proper formula for letters of thanks:
(1) An expression of delight.
(2) Mention of the particular present and why it caused this delight.
(3) Kind words about the giver along with the expression of thanks.
It's not all that hard, nor even that time-consuming. Just don't tell yourself that the givers of presents don't care about appreciation -- or worse, that they shouldn't.
Please send your questions to Miss Manners at her website, www.missmanners.com or to her email, firstname.lastname@example.org.