Dear Aunt Martha,
Thank you for the beautiful sweater. How did you know pink was my favorite color?
I can't wait to see you and Uncle Dave when you visit at Easter.
Every time I wear my beautiful sweater, I'll think of you.
Read those four sentences carefully and consider them a holiday gift.
They illustrate the simple architecture of an all-purpose thank-you note -- whether scrawled in pencil by a first-grader or penned with a Mont Blanc by a Fortune 500 CEO. This is the way to do it, declares Peggy Newfield, founder and president of the American School of Protocol in Atlanta, which trains adults to teach etiquette to children.
In Newfield's universe, the Aunt Martha template requires that "the first and second sentences and fourth sentence are about the same thing" -- to wit, the wonderful gift -- "and the third sentence is unrelated" -- it's about the benefactors.
Her lesson could not be more timely.
'Tis the giving season: Christmas, Hanukah, New Year celebrations, holiday weddings and engagement parties. Even though standards may have slipped precariously in these modern times, gift-givers and hosts can still become righteously offended by a recipient's failure to acknowledge generosity and hospitality.
"Thank-you notes make all the difference between feeling grateful and showing your gratitude," says Kate Spade, author of a slim new etiquette book, "Manners" (Simon & Schuster, 96 pp., $20).
The longtime note-writer -- Spade's signature handbag collection was followed by a line of social stationery -- credits Mom with raising her right. "Every Christmas without fail, my mother gave me stationery" and then "hounded me" until all the thank-yous were written, she says.
Once one is beyond the reach of parental prodding, the specter of having to pick up pen and commit grateful prose to paper can paralyze some respondents for months. The same prospect can deeply irk others, who consider the social nicety an outmoded act of institutional insincerity.
Yet the practice of expressing thanks in writing is on the rise, according to those in the correspondence industry.