• By: OLM Staff

I DO’S and I DON’TS of I DO: Wedding Etiquette – The Finale

As summer winds down, the same can be said for the frenetic wedding season.

Dresses have been bought, bouquets carried and champagne guzzled. The hoopla has more or less died down; however there remains one Very Important Ritual that needs to be completed by the newly betrothed before they walk off into that proverbial sunset: the writing of the thank you card. In general, the importance of “thank you” in the etiquette spectrum is paramount, regardless of the occasion. For this blog, I am devoting the space to the role of the “thank you” card in the post-wedding euphoria. Having said that, a plane trailing a 20-foot “thank you”  banner over the gift-giver’s house would be sort of cool, but I digress.  Let’s begin, shall we?

“Appreciation is a wonderful thing. It makes what is excellent in others belong to us as well.” – Voltaire

When I was a young girl, every Christmas included in my haul of presents was a box of note cards, always beautifully boxed. The purpose was to use them as “thank you” notes through the year when someone either sent a gift or did a kind gesture. I remember sitting at my desk with my box of cards next to me poised to put my pen to paper in an expression of gratitude. Once, I wrote a letter  to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II on the occasion of the marriage of her daughter Princess Anne to Captain Mark Phillips.  Anne was  the first of the Queen’s four children to marry – almost eight years before Charles and Lady Diana got hitched! Fascinated by the glitz and glamour of the monarchy, I got out my fancy notepaper and in near perfect penmanship (a skill I have sadly lost in the last few decades), I put my wishes to paper, stamped the envelope and posted it personally in the mailbox. Three days before Christmas, I got home from school to be greeted with a very official envelope emblazoned with  Buckingham Palace in bright red letters. “I am commanded by the Queen to thank you for your kind message of good wishes to Princess Anne and Captain Mark Phillips. The Queen deeply appreciated your thoughts at this time, and I am to thank you very much.” Signed Kathryn Dundall, Lady in Waiting. That regal “thank you” note has been proudly displayed on my dining room wall for many years and every time I read the words my heart is filled with the same schoolgirl joy as when I first opened that envelope.

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Stationary is the key word here. Emails, generic website acknowledgements, phone calls, pre-printed or fill-in-the-blank notes and passing thanks on via another family member (this has happened to me twice!) are not acceptable means of expressing gratitude to someone who has taken the trouble to hand-select a wedding gift.  Without exception, my heart smiles with happiness, my step is lighter and I just want to be a better person, each time I receive a note of gratitude via Canada Post. There is something very special about the whole process; a handwritten missive (postcards will do as well), the stamp being carefully affixed and then placing the correspondence in a mailbox. Located all over the city, these “bins” are emptied by men and women in official uniforms driving official eco-friendly vehicles and put into big white bags and after a few days, “thank you” letters are delivered to happy people all over the National Capital Region and beyond – rain or shine. Admittedly written a little tongue-in-cheek, the main message here is “never underestimate the impact of a thoughtfully written thank you note to the recipient in the 21st century.”

And the sooner the better. According to the website Emily Post.com “All thank you notes should be written within three months of receiving the gift. While optimum, never use being late as an excuse for not writing.” Even if you are writing notes after your first anniversary or the birth of your first child, keep writing – besides, there will be more news to share! Given that most couples abhor this part of the wedding ritual, Bette’s advice is to get this over with as soon as possible. Notes do not need to be wordy or labor-intensive and in this case, “short and sweet” rules. But make it personal by mentioning the giver and the gift. This way the recipient knows they are being thanked for the set of six “hand blown Murano wine glasses” and not the burlesque-themed floor lamp (Google “lamp in 1983’s A Christmas Story”).

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That being said, even if the gift is not to your taste, send a “thank you” note. No exceptions. I cite the recent case in Hamilton, Ontario when a couple was invited to the nuptials of another. In an effort to be creative (and perhaps they were on a limited budget), the invitees thoughtfully put together a food hamper with some culinary treats as their gift. Imaginative? Absolutely. Cheesy and cheap?  Somewhat. Appreciated? Absolutely not. So much in fact that one of the “newlyweds” thought it okay to text the offending guests and let them know that their bridal offering was cheap, unwelcome and that they were out $400 for hosting them at the wedding. In addition, that is not the way it is done in European traditions – money is always given. OMG! (to quote popular texting lingo). Is a response like this ever okay?

Not according to Toronto-based etiquette writer Karen Cleveland. “Modern etiquette guidelines suggest brides and grooms are free to stipulate gift suggestions via a registry and to conduct their big day in whatever manner they choose. Similarly, guests are under no obligations to follow those guidelines and are welcome to offer whatever gifts they feel are appropriate. Marriage celebrations are meant to mark a life milestone rather than turn a profit. But one thing that’s consistent and that supersedes at weddings is that when someone gives you a gift, you thank them graciously for it, full stop.” In this case I would suggest that a brief “thank you” acknowledging the “creative” wedding gift and then a trip to the local food bank to donate the hamper would have been a better route to follow. No one gets hurt, the gift gets used and etiquette wins once again. Humiliation is never polite – at any time, in any culture.

While I have chosen to focus on weddings for this blog, thank you’s are always imperative and welcomed, regardless of the circumstance or situation. Early last month, I had the pleasure of attending a ceremony at Ottawa City Hall for actress Sandra Oh at which she was awarded the keys to the city by His Worship Mayor Jim Watson. Many will know Sandra Oh for her portrayal of Dr. Cristina Yang on the popular medical drama Grey’s Anatomy, a role she has had since the show’s debut in 2005. Fewer may know that Sandra Oh is a local girl, born and raised in Nepean where she cut her acting teeth in high school and was given one of her first acting scholarships for the National Theatre School by a woman’s organization here in town. The contribution she has made as a Canadian actress in film and television is notable – so what more meaningful way than to be given recognition and accolades in your hometown? While the key is symbolic and in reality does not unlock any magic door (as she so wittily posed the question during the ceremony “what exactly does this key open?”), I  submit that it is the gesture of gratitude that is the most meaningful. The ultimate thank you, really.

Finally, I want to thank my parents for starting my longstanding love affair with handwritten correspondence those Christmases long ago,  an affair which continues to this day. And on that note, I’ll sign off for this blog and look forward to resuming our journey through the maze of decorum do’s and don’ts next time.

Glad you dropped in. You are always welcome.

Elizabeth Rogers, aka Bette, is an event planner, certified wedding planner, publicist and manners maven. She is passionate about people and what makes them tick.  She always treats others with respect, dignity and kindness. And when invited for dinner, always brings two bottles of wine, one for the meal and one for the host.