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Holiday Thank You Note Etiquette

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The holidays can be a whirlwind of attending office parties; hosting cocktail parties; shopping for your whole family, your three best friends, and your new dog (your kids are really gung-ho on this one), not to mention planning large, festive meals. When it's all over, it's understandable to want to take a deep breath and curl up under the blankets with a movie and a box of Jujubes. But first thing's first: Write your "thank yous." Which brings me to our first question...

What's the proper way to thank someone for a gift?

Handwritten thank you notes are bar none the best way to show appreciation. In this day and age many of us don't have the time, stationery, or stamps to post individual cards in the mail. Luckily there are some fabulous alternatives that allow you to send cards by pressing a button rather than licking an envelope. E-cards are the thank-you writer's new best friend. They offer the feeling of a beautiful thank you note arriving in the mail without any of the fuss. You never have to go to the store to pick out psychical cards, there are a vast number of options to choose from, and it's super simple to tailor each card with its own message if you'd like, or save yourself the trouble and skip that step just as easily. There are whole slew of sites offering wide selections of "thank you" cards that you can send with the click of a mouse.

The forgotten phone call.

Another "thank you" that often gets overlooked but is actually one of the best kinds you can give, is a simple phone call when you receive or open your gift. People don't talk on the phone like they used to because emails and texts are so easy. So calling to say, "thank you" is a gift in return. The call will be hugely appreciated even if you can only chat for a couple of minutes or have to leave a message on their voice mail or answering machine. Emails and texts are generally not acceptable ways of saying "thank you" because of their impersonal nature. That goes double for using social networks like Twitter or Facebook to post your "thank yous." It can be nice to post in these places, but they are not acceptable outlets for "thank yous." If someone was generous enough to take some time to pick out a gift just for you, the least you can do in return is give them a proper "thank you".

Is there any nice way of returning a gift or letting someone know you might be exchanging it?

A few years ago, my friend's aunt gave her a cozy, grey pullover sweater for the holidays, and although it was a great sweater, it wasn't exactly her style. So she exchanged it for a cranberry cardigan that she loves and made no mention of this exchange in her "thank you" note. Now, every time she wears the cardigan around her aunt, she has the urge to excitedly point out that she is wearing the sweater she got her. But she never says anything because it's too late to say that she didn't love what her aunt chose. In retrospect, she realized that she could have handled the situation better, and has since vowed to do so in the future. The lesson here is that you should always disclose the exchange. A little pain in the beginning is worth the joy in the end.

If someone gives you a gift receipt, they have given you a go-ahead to exchange the gift, easy peasy.

But, whether they give you a receipt or not, you should let them know that you are returning their gift by saying something like, "It was so nice of you to get me X, but I really need/want X so I think I'm going to exchange it. I couldn't have gotten it without your help. Thank you so much!" Anyone who would be thoughtful enough to buy you a gift in the first place, generally wants you to be happy and to get something you like. No one wants you to keep something in your closet for all eternity even though you'll never use or wear it.

So, before you take the tree down or pack away your menorah or kinara, don't forget to say "thank you" in whichever way you choose. And remember, no texting allowed for this one! While the twenty-something-year-old in your family might be tempted to only communicate this way, your aunt, uncle, and grandparents certainly aren't. Set a good example and encourage "thank you" writing all around. It makes everyone feel almost as good as giving gifts in the first place! Happy Holidays!

Dana Holmes is a lifestyle, gift and etiquette expert who acts as Editor in Chief of Gifts.com and the Gift Rap Blog. She has been working in trend forecasting and gift recommendations for the past decade. Dana loves making occasions special with her unique gift ideas, tips and touches. She has been interviewed by the New York Times, Associated Press, Fox & Friends, TODAY in NY and many more.