Give Thanks

Credit: Google Images

Credit: Google Images

I can hardly ever stay awake late enough to watch the Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon. But our family does enjoy Fallon’s sense of humor and Friday nights are our favorite time to watch the Tonight Show because Fallon does this bit called “Thank You Notes.” His fake thank you notes are always good for a giggle. But it’s Fallon’s comedic delivery and the band’s silly participation in the gags that really make me chuckle.

But the whole endeavor does get me thinking… do younger people–the Tonight Show’s more consistently awake late at night demographic of millennials–actually write thank you notes in real life? Is the concept of a thank you note even still a thing in 2015? Well, it should be.

I was never taught the proper etiquette of writing thank you notes as a young person. But I’ve learned over the years that it is something we should not let slip from the culture or our good manners. Now, I’m not saying I’m very good at always remembering to send a thank you note. But I do try and I also try to instill the practice in my children.

As I mentioned in a previous post about gift giving, repayment in kind when receiving a gift is unnecessary and shouldn’t be expected. Repayment for an act of kindness is also unnecessary, is sometimes not even possible, and should be paid forward to others. But saying thanks is a must and should often be expressed via a thank you note because writing and sending a note requires just a tiny bit more effort than simply saying the words. (I’m planning a future blog post about how effort improves self-discipline and is a useful act of character building. Stay tuned.)

For now, purchase an inexpensive box of blank notes or boxed note cards with “thank you” printed on the front. And whenever you receive a gift or have been blessed by some out of the ordinary act of kindness, take a few moments to jot a note and send it along.

The process of regularly sending thank you notes accomplishes several things. It builds character by actively practicing an expression of gratitude. It improves your writing skills. It lets the gift giver know you’ve received their gift and that you appreciate the thought even if you don’t always truly appreciate the gift.

Be sure to have your children send thank you notes for birthday gifts and any other gifts they receive for special events like confirmation or graduation. I asked our son to write four thank you notes each day after his confirmation party. That way, he was finished within a week and didn’t feel overwhelmed by being asked to write them all at once. And believe it or not, some young people don’t know how to properly address an envelope or construct a thoughtful yet concise thank you note. This is good practice and the importance of expressing gratitude is always a good topic of discussion with the kiddos.

That said, I have a couple of additional opinions on the matter:

Electronic thank you notes are okay. I’ve used Red Stamp and DaySpring to send electronic greeting cards via email or text message. A handwritten note is still best but I’m not a stickler about the method of delivery. It’s truly the thought and effort that count. Plus, sometimes you just don’t have any stamps. And don’t get me started on the United States Post Office. A friend believes many young people don’t even understand how the mail works. She may be right. She often is. Do school children even go on field trips to the post office in the digital age?

Nobody should expect a thank you note. Sending them is a good habit to get into. But not getting a thank you note is by no means any reason to get your undies in a bunch. Let’s pull the tree trunks from our own eyes before picking at the pollen in someone else’s. No need to pass judgment on a simple lack of tutelage or time.

Finally, thank you notes should be sincere, succinct and simple. Gift recipients are not required to fawn over or act like they’re in love with any gift purchased for them. If I buy you a crummy gift and you give it away or donate it to your favorite charity, not a problem. Gift giving is about showing that we care enough to make an effort at being generous just as writing a thank you note is about showing we care enough to make an effort toward expressing gratitude. But if we choose gifts poorly, no harm done. Better luck next time. So if you ever end up buying me a crummy gift, I surely hope I’m gracious enough to send a thank you note before I toss it in the donation pile.

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Gift Giving Doesn’t Make You a Materialist

For years, I’ve heard well-meaning folks lament the commercialization and materialism associated with Christmas. Heck, I’ve even joined the chorus of those who’ve vowed to cut back or cut out gift giving lest anyone get the idea I’ve bought in or sold out. But this thought process can devolve into actually hoping you don’t receive any gifts so you won’t feel obligated to return the gesture. In order to justify a sanctimonious abhorrence of elevating materialism above spirituality, you might even find yourself saying things like, “She doesn’t really need anything,” or “I can’t afford to buy everybody a gift.”

But generosity is at the very heart of God’s command to love our neighbor as ourselves. And who says we have to buy gifts at Christmas? Some of the best gifts I’ve received have been of the homemade variety; things like spiced nuts, candy, cookies and granola. It doesn’t have to cost a lot to give a gift. Gifts of service are equally nice. Shovel your neighbor’s sidewalk or offer to babysit. “We love because He first loved us.”

Gift giving does take a bit of thought and planning, which is another thing some folks complain about. I know you’re busy. We are all busy. But if I’m honest, being too busy to think about, purchase, make or wrap a gift is really just my way of saying, “I’d rather do anything else besides something special for you.” Maybe we should re-read the old tale, The Gift of the Magi by O. Henry and let the notion of self-sacrifice sink in a bit before we get all uppity about gift giving.

Not a crafter or cook? Well, a store bought gift need not be expensive. The old adage, “It’s the thought that counts,” still counts. Let me clarify: scooping up a cache of crap only to decide later who gets each of our hastily purchased do-dads does not constitute being thoughtful. Being thoughtful requires us to pay attention, to listen and to take note of what gives others joy and then selecting gifts accordingly. Being thoughtful does not require us to overthink it or be anxious about choosing the perfect thing. It’s not a contest. And if it’s not perfect, be comforted in knowing that being generous or charitable is not a waste of time or money.

Inexpensive yet thoughtful gifts can include things like:

  • Books!–Fiction, non-fiction, picture books, cookbooks, etc. There are books for every interest imaginable.
  • Food and Wine–A bottle of wine or spirits, a bag of specialty coffee, a jar of honey, a box of chocolates or even a single serving of some scrumptious delight can hardly be a fail. Everybody eats.
  • Little luxuries–Hand lotion, nail polish, lip balm, hand warmers, socks or a gift basket containing a variety of similar items.

    Sweet & simple gifts from friends. #grateful

    Sweet & simple gifts from friends. #grateful

(Got a family too big to buy for? A friend recently shared with me how her family members pitch in to create one large charitable donation each year. Family members select the charity of choice on a rotating basis. What a great idea! Group support of charitable giving not only makes such a gesture more fun for everybody; it prevents you from seeming weird by being the only one making charitable donations in lieu of giving gifts.)

What not to do:

  • Buy items you love without giving any thought as to whether the recipient will also love it.
  • Try to be overly “helpful.” No exercise equipment, self-help books or nicotine gum unless you’re certain these types of items will be appreciated. Certain means you’ve heard it said. Certain is not, “I’m certain so-in-so needs this.”
  • Yammer on about a gift’s cost or how much stress was involved in finding or selecting it. Our exasperation kinda sucks the recipient’s joy out of receiving a gift.
  • Be ungrateful about any gift you receive. Wish lists are a guide, not a directive or command.

Let’s just say I’m back in the gift giving camp. To my mind, the lavishness of department store displays, homes drenched in Christmas lights and abundant feasts during the holidays need not be perceived as sinfully decadent. Take it in. Soak it up. Give generously without a grudging heart. Let all of the holiday excess wash over you as a reminder of the overwhelming outpouring of love and grace lavished on the world by a loving God who sent his son that first Christmas morning. Let the good news of great joy for all the people fill your heart with the sweet assurance of knowing how much you are loved. Share the love. Give a gift.

*Do you have great gift ideas or family traditions? Please share your thoughts about generosity and gift giving in the comments. Merry Christmas!

 

 

 

 

 

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