Now that the weather is consistently warm throughout the country, we've entered into what the British would probably call high season for weddings. According to American Wedding Consultants, the nation's oldest association of professional wedding planners, the months of May through October are big favorites for saying "I do."
So, if you're getting lots of heavy-stock envelopes in your mailbox this time of year, that's the reason. Maybe you're young and a lot of your friends are getting married for the first time. Maybe your children are young adults, and many of their friends—the same ones you hauled to little league, and fed after the game and who consider you a surrogate parent—are. And then, there are all those people in your office who are tying the knot.
"The honor of your presence" and presents seem to be inextricably linked, but in reality, they shouldn't be: All that wedding guests are required to bring to the ceremony are their good wishes for the happy couple. Presents are the icing on the multi-tiered cake. (And they're sent ahead of time, so the family doesn't have to lug them home after the reception. But you knew that, right?)
Wedding invitations are about asking you to witness a happy event—they're not about advertising that the joyous couple needs to complete their service for 12.
To put it bluntly: A wedding is not a shakedown in fancy clothes.
Presents, then, are a lovely fringe benefit of the happy day. But after the dance floor is cleared, after the bird seed (the new rice) is swept up and the guests have returned home, after the blissful honeymoon, come the thank-you notes.
Unlike presents, those are not optional.
The fact that someone shopped, selected, wrapped and sent a gift to you means you need to say thanks. On paper. In your own handwriting. (There are a few obvious exceptions like people who are hurt or ill or otherwise unable to write, unless they can manage it. But I've gotten thank you notes from legally-blind people, so the bar is pretty high here.)
Thank-you notes don't have to be long or written on expensive custom stationery, they just need to be heartfelt. And they should be written within a reasonable time of having received the gift. And they should probably be mailed soon after they're written.
So, dear newlyweds, a few gentle hints to help you when you sit down to acknowledge generosity:
Say something specific about the gift so people know you got their present:
Aunt Lauren: How did you know we wanted a stand mixer? And how did you know our kitchen colors? Thanks to you, we made sweet potato pie for 20 people last Saturday!"
If the person who sent the gift wasn't there for the ceremony, try to add a photo to give them a flavor of the event:
I know Uncle Al doesn't travel much anymore because of his arthritis; we really missed you both. We're looking forward to seeing you this fall in Baltimore, and I'm looking forward to introducing you to Jamal when we get there. Meanwhile, I thought you might like to have this photo of us cutting the cake— before we got it all over ourselves! Thanks again. Love, Alicia.
If the present came from someone who attended the ceremony:
Anne: Thanks for coming and sharing our big day—who knew Howard's homecoming weekend would lead to this?! We're going to call about getting you and Winston over to dinner very soon—probably pasta, so we can use that beautiful ceramic bowl. That yellow cheers me up every time I look at it! Michael adds his thanks and love to mine, Simone.
If you got the gift, but you had to exchange it, say so:
Dear Mr. and Mrs. Bosley: Thanks so much for the lace tablecloth—it's definitely "us"—except it was a little too long for the table. Hope you don't mind that we exchanged it for the perfect fit—now it's us to a T. Seems like not that long ago that you all were home-training Jeff and me around your table! We're looking forward to showing you how beautiful your gift makes our dining room look when you come for the nickel tour. Thanks again, Chris and Jeanine.
And if you hate the gift, just thank them for the thought. They don't have to know your special place for it is in the front hall closet!
Dear Aunt Agnes: It was so good to see you at the wedding—thanks for taking the time to come. And thanks for the hip-hop porcelain angels—I didn't know they made them with rhinestone-trimmed wings. You definitely know where to find the one-of-a-kinds! Sending you love and best wishes for a Happy New Year, Carrie.
The same rules apply for graduation and birthday gifts. If a child is too young to write, you can do it for him—in your voice or his, depending on your style:
Girl—where did you find a cloth monkey in a Polo shirt and khakis? We've dubbed him CC, for Country Club, and we cannot get out of Nicky's hands. Really cute now—maybe a little embarrassing when he's 16. But we'll cross that bridge when we come to it.
Thanks so much! (Still laughing), Love, Jackie.
Or, (allegedly) from the child:
Aunt Callie: I sleep with Nicky every night. I love him! Thank you for sending him to me. My mom says you'll see me next month, when we come to get you at the airport—I'll be the kid with the monkey in one arm! Thanks again, Nicky.
Either way, just remember: The party may change over the years, but saying "thank you" is a constant.
We heard of a couple that had 1,000 people at their wedding. Received maybe 400 presents. Wrote no thank you notes. The bride's explanation: "I guess I was just paralyzed—I couldn't imagine writing 400 anything."
Don't do that! If you have a whopper wedding and you're faced with a 400-present situation, break it down in manageable chunks. Maybe you and your partner decide you'll get out 20 notes a week (that's 10 each, two a day for five days) You'll be amazed at your headway, and word will get around that you're actually sending notes to all these people, and you will get big props. ("They're writing 400 thank you notes! Can you imagine?") Don't forget to open a bottle of champagne to celebrate when you're finished.
FYI: My way around this was to have 30 people at the wedding.
Karen Grigsby Bates is a correspondent for NPR News, and co-author, with Karen Elyse Hudson, of the best-selling etiquette book "Basic Black: Home Training for Modern Times" (Doubleday, 1996) and its revised edition "The New Basic Black, Home Training For Modern Times" (Doubleday, 2006).
is a Los Angeles-based correspondent for NPR News and co-author, with Karen Elyse Hudson, of The New Basic Black: Home Training For Modern Times (Doubleday).