Miles Kington: Repay a present with a note of mystery

'Your gift was an oasis in the nightmare of Christmas. How we put up with this family warfare...'
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The Independent Online

Hello, children. Yesterday I promised to help you with writing your Christmas thank-you letters, and now I am going to show you that a grown-up does sometimes keep his word.

First of all, remember that grannies distrust computers and like pen and ink. So, one neat way of starting a letter is as follows:

"Dear Granny, My computer is on the blink this morning, and I am welcoming this rare chance to put pen to paper ..."

See? Almost halfway through the letter already, and already you have ingratiated yourself with her generation.

If, on the other hand, you are writing to someone computer-literate, a trendy uncle, perhaps, it might be impressive to contrive the impression that you have downloaded it off some website which gives away free thank-you letter templates.

Now, here is an opening for a thank-you letter for a present which is well-meaning but too old-fashioned to be any use (Monopoly, for example, or a skipping rope).

"Dear Granny, Your present was a welcome breath of fresh air in the arid waste of electronic gadgetry which passes for Christmas these days ..."

Too knowing? Too arch? Perhaps. Try this.

"Dear Granny, How super to get something really traditional for a change! My friends and I ..."

Did you get any presents from hard, calculating business-minded relatives, like Uncle Ben? Here is a good approach to try.

"Dear Uncle Ben, Thank you very much for the lovely model car. Rather than play with it, I have decided to keep it in its original wrapping and make it the backbone of the toy collection I intend to amass for, as you must know, the value of a toy in its original packaging is 10 times that of the used version ..."

Do you have any relatives who give you the same present every year? Try this slightly reproachful angle.

"Dear Auntie, Thank you very much for the (pair of gloves, dictionary, whatever) which will do very well to replace the one you gave me last Christmas, which has almost worn out."

You can never go far wrong introducing a note of mystery into a thank-you letter, leaving the recipient pleasantly intrigued and worried. For instance:

"Dear Uncle, Your present was a small oasis of light in the nightmare of Christmas. How we put up with this ugly family warfare every year I do not know. If it all becomes too much for you next year, let me be the first to be struck off your list ..."

Or:

"Dear Uncle, After careful reading of the Scriptures during the Christmas day service, I have seen the light and decided to give unto the poor. According, I have sold your very generous present and distributed the proceeds to a deserving cause. Bless you, Uncle ..."

You can also worry the donor by suggesting that you have taken the gift unusually seriously ...

"Dear Auntie, Thank you for the copy of Nicholas Nickleby, which my father suggested you might like to give me. It is interesting how Dickens's style, which may have been suited to the hurly burly of magazine publication a hundred years ago, now seems rather breathless and over-anxious not to lose the reader's attention. I am grateful to have experienced Dickens at least once, but I rather trust that I shall not be attempting the experiment again until much time has elapsed.

"Your esteemed nephew ...

"PS: How very infectious Mr Dickens's style seems to be, to be sure!"

Of course, the safest thing of all is to tell people that you have written a thank-you letter to Father Christmas himself. Every year, apparently, well in advance of Christmas, millions of children write to Father Christmas at the North Pole telling him what they want.

But do any of those dratted children ever write a thank-you letter to Father Christmas after Christmas, thanking him for a job well done? I fear not. So be a child in a million. Write and thank him. And make sure you tell everyone what you have done. The great beauty of this is that Father Christmas will never tell your parents that you didn't write.

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