You hear it said when giving a gift that "It's the thought that counts." However, when it comes to saying thank you, you must do more than think happy thoughts toward the gift-giver.
No matter how times have changed and how the rules of etiquette have evolved, one important guideline remains (and shall endure): A thank you note is something every gift recipient should send and every gift giver expects.
When my children were growing up we had a strict rule: If a gift was received, prior to it ever being used, a thank you had to be sent. So, if you wanted to play with that toy, or video game, or wear that new Disneyland sweatshirt, you'd have to sit down for a few minutes--which, when you think about it, is comparatively so much less time that it probably took for the gift to be thought about, decided upon and ultimately given--and tell that person how much you appreciated his or her thought and gesture. It is something they still do and are appreciated for as adults.
Discipline promotes performance. If you are strict about this rule‚ not only with your children but with yourself, you'll soon understand that the small investment of time it takes to fire off the thank you far outweighs the value of actual gift itself.
And when we are specifically referring to wedding gifts (or bridal shower and engagement presents), if is often looked upon as ungrateful if a thank you note is not written and sent promptly. Here you are entering a new phase of life for which one is expected to be mature enough to enter, and if a thank you note is not received, one has to wonder if in fact you have the social graces that should come with this new status. May sound old-fashioned but it's true.
You don't have to write a novel. Start off with a lovely piece of stationary. If anything, the beauty of the paper will inspire you (and make the recipient feel special). The stationary need not be personalized--though you may want to consider that option--but it can be something appropriately decorative that reflects your style. It should be noted that handwritten thank yous are still the version of choice, however, it is more and more acceptable to send an email nowadays. (Perhaps not for your older gift-givers who will expect pen on paper.)
Start it off with the appropriate salutation of Dear So-and-so. Let the person know that you are appreciative of the thought (or if it was money, of the generosity) that he or she obviously put into the choice of gift, even those selected from a bridal registry. Let them know how you and your new husband (or wife) look forward to using it or enjoying it in your new home. Let them know they were missed at the wedding (or shower, or other wedding-related event) or that it was so wonderful that they participated in your celebration. Wish them the best and sign off with a heartfelt thank you. That's all there is to it.
The most important part of writing thank you notes is actually getting yourself to sit down and write them. Do not put it off! If you implement the aforementioned rule of not using a gift until you write your thank you, you'll find that you'll get the notes off much more quickly than many of your friends. But in the event you don't follow the rule, then mark your calendar for a maximum delay of no more than three months from the date of receipt of the gift! The thinking that you have a year after your wedding to send a thank you (or to send a gift to others for that matter) is no longer true.
Whether your note gives a simple acknowledgment that the gift arrived, or gushes over how it was the most perfect gift ever, if the note isn't received in a timely fashion, the giver is left wondering. So one might say that thank you notes offer closure, in addition to gratitude. At the very least, those who take the time to send you gifts deserve that courtesy.