A pair of wool socks from Aunt Edna

The oozing Harry Potter potion maker

from cousin Steve

"The Hobbit" from Uncle Michael

A big check from Grandma and Grandpa

The Tony Hawk PlayStation game from your sitter

That's quite a haul you got this holiday season. But now that the presents are opened, the toys have been played with and the clothes hung in the closet, it's time to write . . . the thank-you notes.

Now, there's no law that says you have to write thank-you notes (we checked!) But that doesn't mean that it's not a good idea for kids (and grown-ups) to do it.

Why write thank-you notes? Because it's the right thing to do (boring) and because you'll be seen as gods and goddesses of politeness by the people who gave you the cool stuff to begin with.

Letitia Baldrige knows something about polite: She was social secretary to First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy, who was famous for her thoughtful thank-you notes. Baldridge says that kids who write thank-you notes "really stand out. Everyone brags about you saying, 'Look at what this great nephew of mine sent me.' "

Truth be told, even kids who write thank-you notes don't get the idea to do it all by themselves. It's usually mom or dad who is there reminding (translation: "nagging").

Marcia Baughan, a mother of four from Silver Spring, got her kids involved in thank-you notes before they could even write. "I would let them put the return address label or the stamp on the envelope. They've always helped me with thank-you notes."

Now, son Stephen, 12, writes his own notes. Sometimes it's a pain, he admits, but it's well worth the effort. "It's for a good cause," the seventh-grader says.

But with a lot of presents after the holidays or a birthday, writing those notes can seem like a chore. But it can be fun, Baldrige says.

First off, start with a list. (Mom or Dad can help you put that together.)

Then pick out either nice stationery or other paper that you can decorate. You can go to the post office to pick out the stamps. (There are really cool bat ones out now, as well as adorable dogs and cats. Snowman holiday stamps are also nice this time of year.)

Then sit down at a desk or table with your list, a good pen (those fatter ones are easier to hold sometimes) and a snack of soda and pretzels (we told you this could be fun) . . . and start writing.

Judith Martin, who writes the "Miss Manners" column, points out that "people don't expect a long, refined letter from a child." But it should address the person (Dear Aunt Sophie), thank them for the gift and say why you like it. (Yes, you have to send a thank-you note even if you don't like the gift. "You can always say, 'Thank you for being thoughtful,' " Martin says.) It's harder, we admit, if you can't figure out what the gift is.

Stephen Baughan says that he sometimes "writes jokes or funny remarks" in his thank-you cards to help make them more personal.

Madeline Cuddihy, 9, who has been writing thank-you notes since she was 4, says she usually writes about how much she loved a present and says, "I think of you when I use it."

So what about e-mail? Can you e-mail thank-you notes? "Well, it's better than nothing," Baldrige says reluctantly. Martin agrees saying, "If someone drops by with a basket of candy canes, you can e-mail them; but if someone gives you a bike, it requires a letter."

And what about those "fill in the blank" thank-you notes you can buy in stores? You know, the ones that start out: Dear (blank). Thank you for the (blank). Love, (blank).

Don't get our manners experts started on those.

"Of course you can't do that. It's cold and impersonal," Martin says.

Finally, how quickly should you write your thank-you notes? Well, when we told Martin that we were going to put this story in the newspaper the day after Christmas, her response was: "Too late. Start writing those thank-you notes after opening the presents but before Christmas dinner."

She was kidding, we think.

One last thing to think about as you moan and groan and look at the list. How do you feel when you get a thank-you note? It's fun to get mail, isn't it? Think about how people are going to feel when they get those notes in the mail.

Just listen to how getting a thank-you note makes Madeline feel:

"I feel very loved when someone writes me a thank-you note."

Now start writing.

-- Tracy Grant

There are many ways to express your thanks for a gift. But avoid the fill-in-the-blank option.