DEAR ABBY: At Christmas, "Santa" always fills my children's stockings with a mix of fun, edible and practical items. A few years ago, when my oldest child was beginning to write, my husband and I started the tradition of tucking packets of thank-you cards into their stockings.
We explained that Santa must have given them the cards so they would have stationery to write thank-you notes to family and friends for the gifts they had received. The cards are a wonderful reminder to my children that they need to express their gratitude to those who have spent time and money to buy and send them a gift. Usually there are cards left over to cover thank-you notes at birthday time as well.
Unfortunately, these days, not enough people -- even adults -- take the time to write a note of appreciation for presents they are given. I believe parents should encourage children to do this as soon as they are able to understand the concept. I hope my husband and I are instilling a lifelong habit in our children. Abby, can you help get the point across? -- THANKFUL MOM IN BRUNSWICK, MAINE
DEAR THANKFUL MOM: Gladly. You are teaching your children an important lesson. It's a formality that started being ignored decades ago. Then, as years passed, it was a custom that was not just ignored, but many people forgot it existed. The result was that parents who hadn't been taught the social niceties did not teach them to their children.
When I publish letters about thank-you notes, I invariably receive an avalanche of letters and e-mails from readers complaining that they are hurt and offended because they don't receive thank-you notes. Some individuals use texts and e-mails to acknowledge gifts. However, for most people a handwritten note is much more memorable. Thanking someone for a gift, an invitation to a party or a kind deed in writing is important.
While composing a letter may always be a chore to some people, there are occasions when the written message is the only proper means of communication. It shows effort, and can become a keepsake. For those people who have difficulty expressing their thoughts, my booklet "How to Write Letters for All Occasions" covers a few basic rules for acknowledging gifts, expressing sympathy and accepting or declining an invitation. It can be ordered by sending your name and mailing address, plus check or money order for $6 (U.S. funds), to Dear Abby -- Letters Booklet, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, IL 61054-0447. Shipping and handling are included in the price. Not everyone can write letters that are literary masterpieces, but for anyone who wonders how to put in writing a brief, charming thank-you note, a letter expressing congratulations, a love letter -- or one that announces a broken engagement -- my booklet will serve as a guide to those who have put off writing because they didn't know what to say, how to say it, or even how to begin.
Because the season for exchanging gifts is nearly here, "Thankful Mom," your letter is an important and timely one.