Dear Miss Manners: I have heard that it is not proper to thank people for Christmas gifts. This does not seem reasonable to me, especially when gifts have been packaged and mailed, and the giver is not present upon receipt. What is the official rule of etiquette about Christmas gifts?
Gentle Reader: Let Miss Manners guess where you are getting your etiquette information.
The subject arose with someone under an obligation to thank either you or another benefactor, such as that person’s grandmother. When you mentioned that, there was a counterattack in the form of a declaration that such an expectation was selfish, because true generosity exists for itself, not with any thought of being thanked.
Got that? The person who gave the present is condemned as ignoble by the very person who benefited but wouldn’t trouble to acknowledge it. Miss Manners trusts that you are not so naive as to fall for such sophistry.
Generosity and gratitude are permanently paired. Those would-be etiquetteers who declare expressing thanks to be no longer required have done only half the job. They must also then abolish the custom of giving – or, what always turns out to be the case with them – accepting presents.
Presence, not presents
Dear Miss Manners: I’m married with two children, 14 and 4. My 4-year-old son is currently in treatment for cancer.
My family has been very supportive and kind. One of my sisters, who has no children and a lucrative career, usually shows up for a visit with very expensive gifts for the 4-year-old. This Christmas season, she has been more extravagant than usual, I assume as a result of my son’s illness.
I have gently suggested that she should come for a visit with no gifts, so that my son appreciates her presence more than her “presents.” She was offended at the suggestion. Is there any polite way to limit her gifts?
Gentle Reader: Probably not. Buying them is a comfort to your sister.
What you can do is to use the presents to encourage a bond between them. “Oh, look what Aunt Sophie has brought you!” you can say. And then announce to them both that Aunt Sophie will teach him how to play the game, ride the vehicle, read him the book, or whatever.
Battle over the blinds
Dear Miss Manners: My wife and I are having a continual battle over our window coverings. I believe it is rude for us to keep our blinds open, particularly at night. She does not think so. Is there etiquette for window coverings?
Gentle Reader: That would be Don’t Frighten the Neighbors. But Miss Manners would advise not interesting them too much, either.