It was once a long-held tradition honoured by families around the world to thank loved ones for gifts with a handwritten letter or note. But is the charming art now dying out for good?
A recent poll carried out by Starts at 60 has revealed most over-60s no longer send or expect to receive any form of handwritten thank you note from their relatives. In fact, many now choose to phone or send a message instead as modern technologies continue to make it quick and easy to speak to people around the world.
One reader revealed: “I no longer send letters, but still phone and thank the sender,” while another explained they now choose to send e-cards over the internet.
“Once we had strings of cards, now we have a few as many of our friends do the same. Money is tight and postage is high. Christmas changes as you get older,” they added.
The survey found 78 per cent of those asked don’t send or expect to receive letters, while 15 per cent admitted they still send them – but would no longer expect their loved ones to return the favour.
This could be due to a number of factors, but it’s most likely down to technologies allowing people to send an email, text or online instant message to their relatives instead of sitting down to write a note and paying to post it.
Indeed, just 5 per cent said they still send and expect to receive a thank you note every year, while 2 per cent said they choose not to send them themselves – but they’d still like to receive one from others.
For centuries, letters have connected people right around the world, whether it’s through love or anger. However, according to a survey by cruise company Cunard earlier this year, two thirds of young adults said they use a pen less than five times a week.
Meanwhile, more research by the same company – focusing on people in Britain – showed more than half (54 per cent) of Brits have received less than five handwritten letters in the last 10 years. In that same time, 26 per cent have not received any handwritten letters at all.
Despite an overwhelming majority now shunning the tradition, it remains a hot topic of debate among some families. One Mumsnet user previously sparked a very mixed response when she said she felt insulted as a relative’s two children – who she had always bought gifts for – hadn’t sent a thank you letter in more than two years.
“It’s not unreasonable to get an acknowledgment for a gift that’s been posted,” she wrote. “Wondering what to give them this year and I think I won’t send anything.”
Another mum agreed with her wholeheartedly, writing: “If I receive a gift from someone who’s not there at the time to thank I send a thank you note, and so do my kids. It’s rude in the extreme to accept a gift and not say thanks.”
However others disagreed, with one adding: “I don’t understand the hoo-hah about making a child sit down and write umpteen notes saying exactly the same thing just to prove a point.
“We just ring up relatives we don’t see who’ve sent a gift to thank them personally – much nicer to have a conversation than a pro-forma ‘dear auntie xyz, thank you for my stationery set which I am using to write this thank you letter on. It was very thoughtful blah blah blah’.”
It comes amid an ongoing debate over whether handwriting should still be taught to children at school. While essays and exams were once completely written on paper, they now largely take place on computers and tablets – threatening the entire art of the written word.
A 2012 UK survey of 2,000 adults found that, on average, it had been 41 days since respondents had written a single word – and the respondents that did only wrote in short hand.
Indeed, a 2005 paper by Aix-Marseille University suggested that children might learn better on paper rather than on a keyboard.
The study compared typing and writing in children aged three to five to see if there was a difference in recognising the letters. The evidence showed that the children who had hand written were able to recall more.
Despite this study, typing has also been proven to be beneficial and has significantly increased exam grades for students with dyslexia, according to the British Dyslexia Association.