The most wonderful time to polish your holiday decorum
The early December snowfall in and around town got me in the holiday spirit this year. The city is aglow with colorful lights, more than I’ve seen in my 20-plus years here.
We had our first roaring fire recently after our 5-year-old took it upon himself to lay the fireplace with still folded newspapers and some very heavy logs the length of his arm. We even roasted marshmallows in it after finding some branches in the yard.
As we dive into a month of festivities and feasts, I’m reminded of commonly asked questions about using our merriest manners this season. Polish them, along with the silver, to dine with finesse.
Question: Holiday dinners are a big production and require all hands on deck. How can we encourage children to participate — for example, by setting the table?
Answer: The holidays are a prime opportunity to engage young ones at the table and in the kitchen.
Encourage participation by having children mash potatoes, make a salad or whip cream. They will have a vested interest in the successful outcome of a recipe and appreciate all the hard work and cooperation that goes into producing a meal this grand.
Outside the kitchen, children can greet guests at the door, create centerpieces, make fancy napkin folds, write place cards and practice setting the table just right. Make sure to acknowledge their efforts at the table in front of the family.
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Question: How should a host or a guest handle dietary restrictions?
Answer: It is the guest’s responsibility to share any dietary requirements when he or she RSVPs. In turn, the host may ask when extending the invitation. And never assume that your host remembers you are vegetarian — reminders are helpful.
Depending on how restricted the diet is, the guest may offer to bring a dish that he knows he can enjoy — but in a large enough quantity that everyone may sample it.
The important thing is that these details are communicated before the event. As the guest, do not feel you are inconveniencing the host. It’s far worse to be tight-lipped, both in advance and at the table.
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Question: What is the protocol when it comes to hostess gifts?
Answer: Your hosts have made a financial and emotional investment in you as a guest. Bringing a hostess gift is a thoughtful gesture.
Go-to items are a bottle of wine and flowers.
If you bring flowers, bring them cut and in a vase so your host does not have to attend to them while she is busy with her duties.
Bring a foodie a fun apron, a tea towel or a delicious food item. If your hosts like music, bring a CD or playlist of new tunes. Write down a family recipe and present it on an attractive recipe card. If you are crafty, make a gift. In your thank-you note, reciprocate by inviting your hosts to dinner at your place. The important thing is to not break your bank. A gift is a gift at any price.
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Question: Holiday meals tend to be more formal. What dining etiquette should we brush up on?
Answer: The holidays are a wonderful opportunity to come together to create something memorable.
So much energy goes into the meals, but the setting is equally important. A beautiful space is inviting and encourages guests, including the young ones, to linger longer over conversation.
Pull out Grandma’s serving dishes, polish the silver and lay the table cloth — whatever props don’t see the light of day the rest of the year or your favorite items that create ambiance.
You don’t need a set of Wedgwood to make a beautiful table.
Mix and match what you have.
Give careful thought to seating assignments. Put people together who have not seen one another in a long time, and perhaps put those with opposing political views at opposite ends of the table.
Put napkins on the lap.
Keep elbows off the table.
There are two styles of holding utensils: American (Zig-Zag) and Continental (European), each defined by how you eat off your fork. Both methods provide ergonomic support to cut and eat efficiently. See me to learn how to do it correctly.
Season your food after you’ve tasted it.
To eat a turkey drumstick or lamb chop, use a knife and fork to cut off the easily cut meat, and then pick it up — except at a formal dinner.
Soak up a delicious sauce with a bite-size piece of bread on the end of your fork, not your fingers.
No tech at the table.
Set an example for the young people instead of being a drill sergeant. Keep the smartphones, games and the television off to encourage and engage young people in conversation. If they sit at a kids table, bring young and old together over dessert.
Follow these delicious tips, and all will be in good cheer.
Bizia Greene is an etiquette expert and owns the Etiquette School of Santa Fe. Send your comments and conundrums to hello@etiquette santafe.com or 505-988-2070.