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Carolyn Hax: No thank-you notes? Fine, no more gifts then.

(Nick Galifianakis for The Washington Post)
3 min

Hello Carolyn: I went to your column specifically to see whether I am the only one hurt by not receiving thank-yous for gifts sent. I see I am not.

I thought maybe it’s just an “older generation” expectation. I don’t even mind a text or email … just something.

We give just a little card and present to young relatives to let them know we love them and that we are not going to forget that they are part of the family.

I am so close to not sending those gifts anymore.

Tell us: What's your favorite Carolyn Hax column about love?

— C.

C.: I think that might be the best response.

But not for the reason you imply, the, “Okay, if you won’t thank me, then I won’t keep sending you gifts.”

After watching the collapse in gift-and-gratitude manners, and after reading years of distress mail from gift senders and recipients both, I’m thinking the larger issue is the diminishing relevance of gifts for the emotional purpose we generally intend.

You say you want these kids to know you love and include them. Wonderful intentions. They sent me back into memories of prehistoric times when I was the child receiving gifts from relatives. Gifts from this and that relative were often equivalent, but I never took them as such. If I felt close to the giver otherwise, then I felt the same love and inclusion. If I felt like a to-do list item for the giver otherwise, then I still did after the gift. (Won’t lie, still loved the cash and wrote thank-you notes for it.) So the love and inclusion were cultivated through year-round efforts, not annual gifts. I felt close to the ones who talked to me, listened to me, prepared favorite foods for me and made time for me.

Meanwhile, this was all proving true before the great cheap stuff revolution — when a decent sweater cost a bit and wasn’t $9.99 at TJ Maxx.

Disclaimer: Anyone meeting a legitimate need is an angel, and where there is need, it is often acute. Please let nothing I say here affect the giving to people who struggle to meet their own needs.

But anyone buying gifts as emotional outreach is using steeply devalued currency. Another sweater/toy/tchotchke! Thanks?

Which doesn’t excuse the death of polite thank-yous — I will defend and urge and send them to my last breath — but may help explain it.

This is clear from the anguish I hear from the recipients’ side. Anything but the most useful, imaginative, sustainable or apt gift, small or large, risks incurring an obligation on the recipient. To find a use or place for it, to regift or dispose of it responsibly, to show somewhat unfelt gratitude for it, to tamp down the guilt of costing someone money and being a helpless party to natural resource depletion. Call these recipients killjoys or ingrates or both, but you can’t say they’re wrong.

Thus my advice: Think carefully about what you want these gifts to say to the children in your family. Try to think of a different, more personal, non-holiday-stuff-pegged way of saying whatever it is; adopt that way.

This is more work. I know. (I’ll leave it to the commentariat to explore the endless possibilities.) It’s work I don’t always rally to do myself — which, to help prove my point, is a failing I can’t just paper over with gifts.

So sustained effort is the only substitute that makes sense to me for a dated gift ritual that leaves you and others feeling emptier and less connected than you did before you shopped. Why just stop the gifts when you can mindfully start something more?