Spectator: And now, let us give thanks…

Why is thank you so hard to say, asks Lucy Baring.

Of course, your children don’t write thank-you letters’—this from one of the godmothers and I’m still smarting. For starters, it isn’t true and if she were present during this, the week of weeks, she would witness the blood from stone situation at the kitchen table. And second, I thought it was a generally accepted rule that if you see the person, if you’re handed the present, if you open it in front of them and say all the appropriate things at the time, you don’t need to write a letter. A letter in addition to full-on verbal thanks might, in fact, be a little crawly. Clearly, she doesn’t agree.

I have one friend who has sacked a godson on account of the lack of letters. Actually, she’d have been happy with a phonecall. She has no idea whether the present even arrives, let alone whether it hits a spot and, after 15 years, she’s giving up. I have some sympathy with this, although the last two presents I’ve sent, straight to my godson’s bank account by BACS, lack a certain romance on my part, which means I could only expect, at best, an email back. In the absence of this, should I ask him if it arrived (he lives abroad) and, if so, how to do that without saying: why haven’t you thanked me?

I wouldn’t win any godmother medals and have no right to the moral high ground. Zam is in a similar boat, which is why he’s only just realised his goddaughter is 21 and he once got a letter from the mother of his godson returning the Christmas T-shirt with the explanation that the boy had grown from size small to extra large in the (many) years between sightings.

On the letter front, my brother’s family are masters of the art. Within days of the event or present a charming note arrives, beautifully written with the requisite points: thank you, I’m wearing it now, chatty line about life, hope to see you soon. I wave these at our offspring as examples of what’s expected. This doesn’t help the mood.

Long faces stare at long lists, blessed as they are with numerous aunts and uncles on both sides. ‘Do three before lunch,’ I say, wishing I could still buy those cards in which it’s all done for you and you fill in the blanks, but, unfortunately, these are unacceptable if you’re at university. They’d be particularly useful for the older two for whom there is no ‘before’ lunch and whose productive working hours may stretch the endeavour out until March.

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The next issue is whether to exercise quality control. Do I reject the overly brief or completely illegible? I do. I leave the room before there’s a meltdown and return to find envelopes already stuck down and a demob-happy 11 year old. He knows I won’t stoop to steaming them open and I have to cross my fingers that he understands certain rules. It’s too late to explain that, sometimes, one can be too honest. Unless, perhaps, you get a T-shirt for a 10 year old when you’re 18.

My sister-in-law remembers one of her favourites. One day, she’d served apple crumble and cheese, but had herself not eaten the crumble. The note from the very-well-brought-up 8 year old who had stayed for the weekend read: ‘Thank you for the lovely weekend. It’s so clever to make a crumble that’s hot on the outside and frozen in the middle.’ Which was the only way she discovered that the pudding had
never thawed.

‘Is that enough,’ I’m asked as one of them waves the paper on which they’ve made it to the second side, an achievement that implies maturity, thoughtfulness and due diligence. Unless you take a leaf out of this book:

‘Dear Mr. von Fuehlsdorff,
Thank you for your champagne. It arrived, I drank it, and I was gayer.
Thanks again,
My best
Marilyn Monroe.’

You can be brief if you’re witty, famous, or, ideally, both. Or you can get to the second side and consider it light work. ‘And next,’ I say, ‘we might take down the tree.’