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Expressing gratitude never goes out of style

Dear Abby: With the holidays approaching, a reminder is in order. People: Don't forget those thank-you notes! I don't mean an email, but a REAL, honest-to-gosh thank-you note sent through the mail with postage.

My mother always told me that a gift is not truly yours until a proper thank-you has been sent. She said it "completed the transfer." I was not allowed to play with the item or use it until that note was written.

This is especially true for young people today, who seemingly were not taught this in school or by their parents. Very young children can draw a picture, and the parent can add a line to say it was drawn to express thanks. As the child matures, he/she can use his/her own words of gratitude.

I can't tell you how many parents comment on the absence of this display of etiquette.

Good manners are never out of date. They are noticed and appreciated. From time to time I have seen you mention your booklet on "How to Write Letters." If it includes a section on thank-you notes, I'm sure it would be helpful to a lot of people in the next two months. – Elinor in Surprise, Ariz.

Dear Elinor: The booklet does. Not a day goes by that I don't receive letters and emails from readers who are upset enough to write because they haven't received a thank-you note for a birthday, graduation, wedding or holiday gift they sent. Some of the writers say they are so hurt and offended that they will stop giving gifts because they were left hanging, wondering if their gift was ever received. The problem may be that many parents no longer insist their children practice this courtesy, so the kids never learn how to do it.

Chief among the reasons that thank-you notes aren't sent is that many people don't know what to say. They think the note has to be a long, flowery composition when, in fact, short and to the point is more effective.

Keeping a notepad handy when opening gifts and immediately taking a moment to jot down the first thought that comes to mind is helpful. (Example: Do you like the color? The style? Is it something you had been looking for and couldn't find? Is it a special homemade treat? Mmmm.) WRITE IT DOWN.

While letter-writing or even emailing may seem like a chore, there are times when a handwritten note is the most appropriate means of communicating one's thoughts. My booklet contains sample letters for almost any occasion. It can be ordered by sending your name and mailing address, plus check or money order for $7 (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. Inside you will find many samples that can be used as patterns from which to write your own.

For anyone who has ever wondered where to begin when writing a note of thanks, offering warm congratulations, condolences, composing a love letter or the opposite -- announcing a broken engagement or a decision to divorce -- "How to Write Letters" is a handy guide for people who put off writing because they don't know what to say.

Dear Abby is written by Abigail Van Buren, also known as Jeanne Phillips, and was founded by her mother, Pauline Phillips. Write Dear Abby at www.DearAbby.com or P.O. Box 69440, Los Angeles, CA 90069.

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