Do you write thank-you letters? They are a ‘dying pleasure’

A properly written thank-you letter makes all the difference to the giver.

A properly written thank-you letter makes all the difference to the giver. - Credit: © ARCHANT NORFOLK PHOTOGRAPHIC

It didn't have a name back then, but the period between Christmas and New Year now seems to be known as Twixmas.

Apparently, it originates from the old English word 'betwixt' – as neither wholly one thing nor the other – ie no longer Christmas but not yet New Year.

And it has nothing to do with chocolate.

In the days of my childhood, this period between the visit of Father Christmas and the dawning of a New Year was a strange time; the excitement of the build-up to December 25 had evaporated, yet it was enjoyable because I had the Christmas toys to play with and still the pleasure of being off school for a few more days.

There was also the occasional party to go to.

Yet there was one important task to undertake, which meant parking up the Matchbox cars, backing the electric train into a siding and being somewhat studious for a couple of hours.

That was to write thank-you letters or cards to relatives and friends of the family who had been generous enough to send me a gift for Christmas.

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Having noted who had given what, I set about writing… 'Dear auntie Marjorie and uncle Colin'… 'Thank you Nana and Grandad for my…' and the process went on.

Looking back, it was more enjoyable and rewarding than I was prepared to admit at the time, yet in this era of emails, texts and Facebook posts, it seems a dying pleasure.

I may also be out of step on this point, though, as a recent survey indicated that three-quarters of those giving gifts are happy to receive a digital thank-you via email, text message or Facebook.

It is the modern way, but I fear a crucial ingredient of the thank-you process is being lost amid the technology.

What many overlook in this modern, convenient, internet email society we now inhabit is that words by themselves do not always necessarily convey the full sentiment.

Digital 'thank-yous', while convenient and cheaper, do not reflect effort involved in composing and writing the message by hand, the nuances in the text, or small intimate comments only recognised by the reader.

They are fast, ephemeral, yet so often impersonal.

Former Conservative MP Ann Widdecombe has an interesting take on the debate when she recently urged parents to encourage their children to thank givers for presents, saying it didn't matter whether it was by text or letter.

While saying there is no substitution for the handwritten letter, she did note that a text stating 'Gran ur gr8' sent in the moment of unwrapping has a 'glorious spontaneity and gratitude, which the ritual letter does not'.

However, I believe the considered, written thank-you is still the way to show appreciation for a Christmas gift.

Thank-you is a special word – priceless when used properly – and givers of presents remember the appreciation long after they have forgotten how much they spent on the gift when they are properly thanked. For the children of today, writing thank-you cards may seem old-fashioned, but it is important. It shows respect and discipline, rather than the throw-away immediacy of texting or emails.

It is a skill because it takes thought and consideration before putting pen to paper, thinking about every word and the sentence in advance, rather than the anonymous, almost clinical re-editing of the word-processed document

It is a life-skill, teaching young people about thinking before they commit to a word and then having the confidence to get it right first time.

That served me well as a journalist who is old enough to have written on a typewriter in the early days of my career as a reporter. I know the value of a few seconds thinking time before clattering away at the keys, though that may have been motivated more by a desire not to have to rip the copy paper out of the roller, re-insert the carbon paper for the duplicate, and start again too often.

A card, with a personal handwritten note of thanks carries with it love, affection, respect and appreciation. Emailed thanks, with a naff emoji, does not.

It is another reflection of an age where we have lost the deeper meaning and context of that small group of truly important words: please, thank you, and sorry…

Today, people seem to think that saying 'sorry', however sullenly, is enough for an apology without recognising it is the expression, the tone and the delivery that truly conveys the level of remorse and regret.

That problem, however, has been exacerbated by the 'hollow' corporate apology, where a bank for example apologises for failing its customers, where a government apologises for the misdeeds of previous regimes – often ones it had no control over.

How does that become a genuine apology?

It doesn't get anywhere near and has made the word sorry appear almost a legal term rather than a meaningful gesture of regret.

Thank-you – a word that takes on its true power and impact when written by hand rather than typed – should not be allowed to go the same way.

•The opinions above are those of Mark Nicholls