How to Meaningfully Wish Someone a Happy Thanksgiving, According to Etiquette Experts

Here's who to contact, what to say, when to write a note, and whether you can send a text—or need to call.

a woman holding a card with a message, THANKS, written on it
Photo: Kohei Hara / GETTY IMAGES

Thanksgiving doesn't have the same association with personalized, mailed cards as the later winter holidays do, but that doesn't mean you couldn't—or shouldn't—reach out to your friends and family with warm wishes for a happy day. We asked experts to detail who you should contact, the most appropriate methods, and exactly what you should say.

Who to Reach Out To

Sharing Thanksgiving wishes shouldn't feel like a chore; instead, it's an opportunity to connect with your loved ones, near and far, using a simple message of gratitude. This doesn't mean you should blast your entire contacts list with a generic text, though, says etiquette expert Elaine Swann of The Swann School of Protocol. "Really focus on the individuals closest to you, that you communicate with often, and that are near and dear to your heart," she says.

As you move into more distant circles of family and friends, you're not required to reach out at all—though a note or text is almost always a welcome surprise. "Pause for a moment and consider those you care for. Anyone who is on your list can receive a card or message," says Jodi RR Smith of Mannersmith Etiquette Consulting. "After all, who among us doesn't appreciate a kind word hidden among the bills, work, requests for donations, and spam we regularly receive? [It's] a figurative hug from someone who thought fondly of you."

When to Send a Note, Text, or Call

Whether you write out your Thanksgiving wishes in a card or dash off a quick text in between dinner preparations is informed by who you're contacting. "The method depends on your relationship and how you generally communicate with them," says Swann. You can opt to send your favorite Thanksgiving-themed Friends GIF to the group chat with your best friends, but you're better off mailing something to older relatives.

"Nowadays, the truly savvy know how to match the mode of communication with the message," says Smith. "A generalized 'Happy Thanksgiving' or cute cartoon meme can be posted to those who follow you on social media, [but] Great Aunt Tilly and the like should receive a handwritten note or card. For those you truly love, but cannot see for the holiday, consider a grander gesture such as sending flowers."

If you're going the snail mail route, plan to have mailed notes arrive by November 15, so they don't get lost in the holiday chaos.

When to Touch Base in Person

Plan to connect with those in your inner circle—especially if you won't be seeing them on Thanksgiving Day—over the phone or on a video call; this could mean an early FaceTime with your nieces and nephews, or a scheduled time to call your aunt after dinner so she can pass the phone around to all your cousins.

If you call in the morning or early afternoon, be conscious of the many tasks that might be facing your loved ones as they prepare for dinner. "Be mindful of how long you keep them on the phone," says Swann. "Say, 'Happy Thanksgiving,' check on the person, share an update or two about yourself, and then wrap the call up."

How to Make Your Thanksgiving Wishes More Personal

Though keeping your sentiments simple is fine, Smith recommends adding elements that show off your sense of humor or make your message specific to the recipient. "If your personality tends towards the funny, [try] something such as 'Happy Turkey Day! May there be plenty of mashed potatoes and pie to fill your belly,'" she says.

Taking the heartfelt route is also an option, especially if your loved one recently experienced a big change: "If they have had a major lifecycle event, you can make note of that: 'Thinking of the three of you as you mark your first Thanksgiving as a family,' or, 'I know the holidays can be difficult. May the memories of happier Thanksgivings together help to carry you during this first holiday without your mom," offers Smith. If writing isn't your forté, choose an applicable Thanksgiving quote to include within your message.

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