Long ago, when I was young, very young, perhaps 10 years old, I learned that it is important to write thank you notes. I had always known that it is important to say “Thank-you”, but Christmas time in our childhood home taught me and my four siblings the importance of writing notes to say “Thank-you.”
We lived in a home that survived because of my mother’s and my grandparents’ frugality and resourcefulness. My parents had parted and my grandparents took my mother and the five of us into their home. A major undertaking and an amazing act of love and generosity, especially in those long ago days of no social services and no laws to ensure that absentee parents paid any child support. Making ends meet required imagination and creativity.
I remember Christmas as a lovely busy family time. We didn’t have anything in excess but felt warmly loved with our gifts of homemade clothes and handmade toys from our grandparents. Occasionally, there would be a “store-bought” gift or more rarely a gift of money from a more affluent auntie or uncle.
We were raised to appreciate any gift, any thoughtfulness, any kindness and learned early the art of writing “Thank-you” notes. After Christmas was over and before the school holidays were finished, my mother would sit all five of us down with paper and pencils to write notes. For my younger siblings, she would help them by printing out what they wanted to say, so they could then copy it out in their own careful handwriting or printing. Older children were expected to compose their own notes, with helpful questions, suggestions or guidelines from Mum. When each of us had finished, Mum would gather the notes (some worn thin from many erasures, some with tiny drawings, each expressing individual emotions) and pop them into a large white envelope and post them to the appropriate person.
Over the years during which we lived in our grandparents’ home, this ritual held. Every holiday, every year, during the school breaks, we wrote the letters of appreciation for the remembrances of that Christmas. It became part of our Christmas. Part of our family’s rituals.
I still remember the wood and graphite smell of pencil shavings and the crumbly feel of eraser rubbings, the rough texture of the vellum paper we were allowed to use for special notes, the shaking of the wobbly-legged card table where we sat earnestly writing and the sense of accomplishment when Mum took all five letters and finally sealed them into the fat white envelope.
For me, Christmas still means writing “Thank-you” notes. I wrote letters today, sitting with Christmas memories for company, amidst piles of note cards and stamps, address labels and pens, honouring a family tradition. Saying “Thank-you.”