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Newport Manners & Etiquette: Holiday Wedding Engagement, Hosting Essentials, & More

Wednesday, November 22, 2017


Best festive questions to Didi Lorillard this week at NewportManners were about holiday manners and etiquette for wedding engagements, hosting essentials, fending off Christmas houseguests, and how to make a holiday toast. Stay safe, healthy and happy everybody! My sincerest gratitude to my family, friends and the Redwood Writers' Circle.

Holidays are the perfect time for becoming engaged

Q.  So I have the ring and I'm asking her parents for my girlfriend's hand in marriage over the holidays. Mainly because it's so awkward having to answer the same questions every year from her family about when we're getting married and where would we like to get married, etc. The pressure is ridiculous, but we've so busy. We want to get married and now that my girlfriend's finishing up her dissertation, it seems like a sane time for the long-overdue engagement announcement. How can I make asking her fun?  Name Withheld


A.  What's more magical and romantic than a holiday proposal? Give her a present (the ring boxed and wrapped) Thanksgiving eve or Christmas. Then you can announce your engagement to assembled family members the following day. You want all the siblings and their families to find out at the same time.

Make the announcement, assuming both she and her parents are into this, as a toast before dinner during cocktails.

  • While trimming the tree Christmas Eve, have her discover the ring as an ornament hanging from the tree.
  • What could be more fun than ice skating at night? Skate out into the center of the rink and get down on your knee right there to propose to her. Hopefully, it will be gently snowing.
  • Personally, I always thought being proposed to in the shower would be very sexy, but you wouldn't want the wrapped ring box soaking wet.



Most important essentials for first-time holiday entertaining

Q. I've never entertained for a major holiday and I think I'm in way over my head. Can you give me some tips on how to make my first foray a success?   LB, Portland, OR


A. No worries. Here's a check-off list.

  • Invitation List: About a month out, find out from a few of your favorite friends and family if they are able to attend on the date you've chosen. If one date, doesn't work, try another. Build on your party core of guests well in advance.
  • Choosing the date: Better yet, say that you're thinking of one or two dates, and ask which would work best for them.
  • Personalize your invitation to reflect the season, occasion, or place (location) where you're holding your party.
  • Mix and match, invite a diversity of friends: Choose from varying ages and different backgrounds -- people whom you know from the most important arenas of your life. 
  • Don't turn down help. If a guest offers to bring a festive dip, side dish or dessert or do something to pitch in say, YES. They'll be more committed to showing up when they receive your invitation if they're contributing to the festivities. But do confirm two days in advance to give them a final head count of attendees. And to find out exactly what they're bringing, and how they intend to help out.
  • Delegate: They say they want to help, so let them bring appetizers, play bartend and bring a bag of ice, light the candles and/or fireplace, pass canapés, etc. 
  • Keep a list of who is doing or bringing what.
  • Have backups: start bagging ice cubes into your freezer, stocking up on nuts, olives, and cheese and crackers to put out. If the friend who is bringing the appetizers is late, at least you'll have snacks for your guests.
  • Ahead of time, prepare as much as possible. 
  • If you don't cook, investigate ahead of time where you can buy prepared foods, which you can always personalize with parsley and colorful garnish. Nobody cares if you've bought the gluten-free apple crisp because you're serving it with really good vanilla ice-cream.
  • Don't experiment when hosting. Use your tried and true recipes.
  • Cook the turkey or ham the day before.
  • Set the dinner table and children's table (if you're having enough kids) ahead of time..
  • Chill the wine and beer. Figure out if you need coolers.
  • Ask someone else to make an appetizer.
  • Have a good time with any children in the house and let them make pumpkin pies to scent the house with holiday spices. 
  • Encourage kids to be creative by making decorative place cards.


How to handle the delirious Christmas houseguest and it's not Santa

Q.  I just got a text from a friend, whom we socialize with over the summer, asking if she and her husband could stay in our guesthouse for the week of Christmas. Her text began: BIG ASK. I'll say. that's a big ask! 

They stayed in our guesthouse for a week last May for their daughter's wedding and we went all out, without feeling much appreciation in return. Inexplicably, I immediately texted SURE. But now we're having a change of thought. We really don't enjoy their company very much and, as I said, we don't feel appreciated. How do we get out of this?  RK, Newport

A. As soon as you read this, text your would-be-Christmas-houseguest to say, "I answered your BIG ASK text too quickly. We cannot possibly have you staying with us for a week over Christmas. We have other plans." Leave it at that. No lies (the Plans could be that you hadn't really planned on having them to visit). If she asks why not? Say, "It is not a good time for us to have houseguests." Should she persist. say, "Xmas week is not a good time to visit."



How to make the really perfect toast

Q. As a guest, do I toast the hostess and host on behalf of our side of the family? We're having a holiday dinner at the home of our daughter-in-law's parents for the first time. I don't know what's expected. Does it matter whether my wife gives the host or do I have to? Public speaking is not my thing and under pressure I'm apt to stutter.   JW,  Providence

A. Overcome your speaking challenges for the holidays. Make your toast as brief as possible. Only a sentence or two is needed at a holiday dinner. 

Be a great toaster

  • Rehearse your two or three sentences in the mirror ahead of time.
  • Make eye contact with those assembled but certainly don't stare at the same the person the whole time. 
  • Handle nerves and don't fiddle with the hand that isn't holding your glass.
  • You don't have to be a storyteller. Give a natural toast that sounds as though you sincerely appreciate spending time with all who have come together to celebrate...


People love a toast, even a bad one. Toasts aren't only given by men, so bow to your wife and let her deliver the toast. The important thing about giving a toast is to look at her or him to reply in gratitude.

Didi Lorillard researches manners and etiquette at NewportManners for her forthcoming book.


Related Slideshow: 25 Things You Must do This Fall in New England - 2017

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Walk/Jog/Hike Through the Bird Sanctuary

Worcester, MA 

There are some great walking and hiking paths behind the Audubon Society on Massasoit Road in Worcester to visit this fall.

Want to be at peace and escape the city without really leaving the city? Take a brisk walk through the Bird Sanctuary. If you don't feel better by the time you leave there...then turn around and go back in.

The bird sanctuary is located on 414 Massasoit Road in Worcester

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Pumpkin Picking at Jaswell's Farm

Smithfield, RI

The fall season is all about pumpkins. Pumpkin beer, pumpkin pie and most of all pumpkin picking.

Pumpkin picking is a timeless event for families, especially those with young kids who will love to just run around and grab whichever pumpkin looks good to them.

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Attend the Vermont International Film Festival 

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The 2017 Vermont International Film Festival takes place from October 20 to October 29. 

The festival will feature more than 70 films from all over the world as well as panels and discussions. 

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Fall Exhibits at the Boston Children's Museum 

Boston, MA 

The Boston Children's Museum has two special exhibits to celebrate the fall season. 

The first is a dinosaur exhibit titled "Explor-a-saurus," and there is also a "Bubbles" exhibit and a "construction zone."

The museum is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on a daily basis. 

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Leaf Peeping in The Berkshires

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Arguably the coolest thing about the fall season is the changing of the leaves. You will want to go up to the Berkshires and stroll through a park or just down a street and take note of all the colors, it's a must do fall activity.

How many colors can you see?

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Attend the Freeport Fall Festival 

Freeport, Maine

The festival will feature more than 130 artists showing off their work ranging from photography oil, watercolor, mixed media and much more.

The festival runs from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

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Enjoy a Glass of Wine at Newport Vineyards

Newport, RI 

Hello grape season! 

It may be getting colder, but for wine lovers, this is the best time of year because it's grape season.

There are many great Vineyards around New England but Newport Vineyards is among the best. 

Enjoy the wine.

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Coppal House Farm

Lee, NH

Not one, not two, but three corn mazes all in one spot. 

The famous triple maze at Coppal House Farm in New Hampshire is fun for all ages!

This year's theme is honey bees for all three mazes.

Built in the mid-1700s, Coppal Farm has horse-drawn carriage rides, pumpkin picking, and tons of other activities on its 78-acre farm.

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Drink a Glass or Two or Three of Apple Cider

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Nothing says fall like drinking nice warm glass of apple cider, or maybe multiple warm glasses of apple cider.

Head over to your local market and buy some, or maybe you know how to make your own or have your own recipe. Either way, drinking apple cider is something to look forward too.

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Last Golf Rounds of the Year at Harbor Lights 

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While it may not be summer anymore and you may need an extra shirt or light jacket, there is still time to get some end of season swings in at your local golf course.

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Hit them straight.

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Take a Trip up Mount Mansfield 

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Coastal Wine Trail 

Across Southern New England

The Coastal Wine Trail is a nonprofit group of 14 wineries that are spread throughout Southeastern New England. 

Vineyards on the trail include Preston Ridge Vineyard in Preston Connecticut, Travessia Winery in New Bedford, Massachusetts, Westport Rivers Vineyard & Winery in Westport, Massachusetts and Coastal Vineyards in South Dartmouth, Massachusetts. 

The heart of the trail is less than three hours from New York City and 90 minutes from Bosto

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This indoor haunted house offers a frightening and spooky experience with realistic, detailed rooms featuring cutting edge special effects and horror creatures at every turn!

Enter at your own risk!

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Last Chance for Al Fresco Dining at Boat House Restaurant 

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Celebrate the fall season and eat outdoors one last time. 

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Drink a Fall Beer Before They Go Away 

Across New England

The fall selection of beers is unmatched. 

Whether it's Octoberfest from Sam Adams or a pumpkin pie beer from Newport Storm, it's time to get out to your local bar or store and pick up some of the great fall beers on tap or in stock.

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Learning at Plimoth Plantation

Plymouth, MA

The fall season is Plimoth Plantation's busiest time of year and it is a great time to bring the family.

Visit the Wampanoag Homesite, the 17th-Century English Village, Nye Barn, Craft Center, Plimoth Bread Company, Mayflower II, and the Plimoth Grist Mill!

A great way to learn and have fun at the same time.

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Visit the Jack-O-Lantern Spectacular at Roger Williams Park Zoo

Providence, RI 

The Jack-O-Lantern Spectacular is a one of a kind fall event taking place at Roger Williams Park Zoo and runs from October 6 - November 6, 2016 and tickets are only sold online.

The display features more than 125 carved pumpkins, featuring designs such as the laughing tree and several others. 

New to this year’s spectacular, Friday – Sunday nights now feature timed ticket entry starting at 5:30 p.m. These tickets will only be sold online.

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Last Chance for Outdoor Dining at Caffe Expresso Trattoria 

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International Oktoberfest at Bold Point Park 

East Providence, RI 

International Oktoberfest will take place over Columbus Day weekend at Bold Point Park. 

The festival will include seasonal beer, German cuisine, and live music. 

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Ride or Run the East Bay Bike Path 

Barrington, RI 

Put on a comfy sweater and take a fall run or bike ride down this 14.5 mile long path that stretches from India Point Park in Providence to Independence Park in Bristol.

The path connects many towns while providing waterside views nearly the entire way.

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Attend King Richard's Faire 

Carver, Massachusetts

Dive into history at King Richard's Faire, New England's oldest and largest Renaissance Festival and most beloved annual fall event. Dress up, play games and learn alot at a faire that is a great fall event for the entire family.

The faire ends on October 23. 

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Take a Fall Trip to Block Island

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As the fall season rolls on, trips to Block Island are winding down.

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A fall trip to Block Island is something ou must do this fall.

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Westerly Fall Restaurant Week

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Restaurants will offer a three course price fixed meal at $15 for lunch and $25 for dinner. 

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Book a Weekend Getaway to Twin Farms

Bernard, Vermont 

Take a break, getaway from the daily grind of life and go on a weekend getaway to Twin Farms in Vermont. 

While you are there, there are great opportunities for hiking, biking and just relaxing. 

You will not regret this trip. 

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Visit Connecticut's Glass House 

New Canaan, CT 

Construction began on the Glass House in 1949 by architect Philip Johnson and is now a National Trust Historic Site. 

The house is on 49 acres of land which holds 13 other structures and features a collection of 20th century painting and sculpture. 

The foliage surrounding the house makes the fall season a great time to go visit. 


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