A guide to writing the perfect unthank-you letter
Updated: Apr 20
It’s part of every Christmas. Predictable from certain individuals. Often extremely tacky. It’s the unwanted gift. At least one will land in your lap or be concealed in a glittery gift bag this festive season.
No matter how bad, ugly or embarrassing it is, you still need to say thank you. But you have the power to decide what message you really want to send. Do you want to encourage them not to bother again? Would you prefer cash? Is it possible they select something off your list next year? By following our steps to the perfect unthank you, you’ll cleverly use bad writing to achieve a potentially gift-changing result.
1. Begin with an audience-appropriate greeting
Start as you mean to go on. Aloof and ever-so-slightly insincere.
A distant relative deserves a subtle spelling mistake:
Dear Great Aunt Bertrude,
A friend or colleague will have to make do with something more generic:
A close family member should know better – only cold, dead languages will do for these more serious offences:
For everyone else, use something seasonally appropriate:
2. Master the pleasantly polite introduction It’s usually polite to ask after someone’s health. But questions invite answers, so it’s best to avoid anything like a conversation.
❌ How have you been? ✔️ One assumes you are in adequate health
Next you need to acknowledge the gift. But never use an active voice as it will make you sound responsible in some way.
❌ I received your present ✔️ Your present was received
Similarly, avoid directly saying thank you in case they think you’re actually grateful. You don’t want to risk receiving the same gift again.
❌ Thank you so much for the wonderful present ✔️ Thanks may be due for said gift
3. Describe the dreaded gift without using detail You should never be too specific about the gift. It would make you sound like you like it.
❌ The jumper is lovely, it matches the jeans Aunt Hilda gave me ✔️ The jumper is a cutting-edge design suitable for this season
And never, ever give examples of when you used the gift. This gives the reader the impression they made the right choice.
❌ I wore it to Nan’s house on Boxing Day ✔️ Its world-class aesthetic makes it appropriate for any social occasion
4. Ramble like your drunk Auntie on Christmas Day Waffle is powerful. It’s like the radar jamming of the copywriting world. By waffling a bit, you’ll completely obscure the real message in your letter. We’d suggest adding:
✔️ A description of other presents you received
✔️ A disaster that happened on Christmas Day
✔️ A story about the family member who got too drunk
✔️ A comment about how it wasn’t a white Christmas (again)
✔️ You’ll never guess what Uncle Barry did after dinner. It’s a long story though, you needed to be there to find it funny. But we were all so angry at him.
✔️ While Mum was taking the turkey out the oven, the dog stole the pigs in blankets. You can imagine everyone’s disappointment – the best part of the meal gone like that. Heartbreaking
They’ll forget what you were saying and finish the letter with absolutely no clue what they read. But that’s fine, you don’t want them to sense your utter disappointment.
5. Challenge yourself to cram in as much jargon as possible
Jargon is a great way to confuse your reader. Because they don’t understand it, they won’t take in any of the information.
✔️ The toilet golf could be used to really flex my pectoralis major and latissimus dorsi!
But nothing says “I’m thinking of you” like a copy and paste job from last year’s annual report from work:
✔️ Procurement had a respectable 4th quarter, coming in well under budget for the seasonal spend. However, personnel issues in catering meant the festive roast poultry did not quite meet the quality assurance standards our stakeholders expected. After reviewing the situation with legal, next year’s culinary requirements will be met by a comprehensive programme of outsourcing from M&S.
Like waffle, jargon is a great way to obscure your true intentions. Did they say thank you? I’m not quite sure. I think so. Maybe?
6. Speak in clichés to confuse your recipient
Clichés are overused, but you can use that to our advantage. It makes writing less effort. It also sounds like every other thing you’ve ever read. Remember – you’d hate for your letter to be memorable! And if they make absolutely no sense in context, even better.
✔️ It wasn’t a white Christmas this year, but all’s well that ends well ✔️ The dog did a shit in my cousin’s shoe. I guess curiosity killed the cat…
7. Inject some word vomit
Keeping words and sentences long helps bore your reader. After reading a few sentences that are 16 + words, they’ll start to fall into a state of drowsiness.
❌ Xmas was great. ✔️ I had a wonderful Yuletide this year, getting up from my slumber, unhealthily consuming chocolate for breakfast, unwrapping countless scores of presents, and then eating masses more delectable foodstuffs and drinking mother’s ruin and other such beverages until there were no more alcoholic drinks left in the whole habitation.
See just like that, a paragraph of meaningless rambling complete. Thank goodness, you’ve filled some space on the page. Remember, you really don’t care if they don’t read it. In fact, you’d rather they just threw it in the bin. This is just a box-ticking exercise.
8. Sprinkle exclamation marks like fake snow
Exclamation marks are a lazy yet quick way to add excitement.
Just make sure it doesn’t make you sound too sarcastic. It’s all about balance.
✔️ Wow! You really do know what an adult like me needs for Christmas! ✔️ I saw this on Amazon Daily Deals too and thought it was a bargain! ✔️ A 2017 calendar will be really useful for looking up dates of things that have already happened!
There you have it, some sort of emotion, with zero effort. Bish bash bosh.
9. Go mistakes galore
You haven’t got time for reading your own masterpiece. As for spelling, don’t worry about checking it. They can send you back a red-penned version if that’s what they enjoy doing in their spare time. If you check your readability and the Flesch-Kincaid grade level is under 12, ramp it up. More long sentences and more long words. You don’t want this to be a pleasant or easy experience for the recipient.
10. Sign off sensibly
At all costs avoid any variation of “love from” (*gags*) or “best wishes”. These are far too endearing. You don’t want a sloppy kiss on the cheek next time you see that great Auntie of yours with the beard, do you? We recommend sealing the deal with a classic Rickroll:
✔️ Never gonna give you up, never gonna let you down
Leaving them baffled is the best approach. Also good luck to them trying to get that earworm out their head.
11. Blurt it all out with the P.S
Even if people skim most of your letter, they’re likely to actually read the end. So make it memorable. Or use it as opportunity to get what you’ve really been wanting to say off your chest.
Here are some examples:
✔️ p.s. I’ve decided to live off grid. This is the last time you’ll hear from me. Bye.
✔️p.s. send me the gift receipt ASAP (or else I’ll tell everyone about the time you XYZ)
✔️p.s. next year give me money. Ta muchly.
Christmas sorted. On Christmas Day, no matter how insulting and inappropriate the gift, hold your head high and laugh it off with a casual flick of the hand. Embrace the game of chilli chocolate roulette, stick your fingers in electric shock games with glee and enjoy that glorious afternoon snooze during the Queen’s speech. Serious note: We know people will go without this Christmas. If you really don’t want your gift, we suggest donating it to charity or regifting it. We don’t like waste!