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Newport Manners & Etiquette: Thanksgiving Dos & Don’ts

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

 

Holiday party etiquette dos & don'ts, what to do when your family doesn't DO Thanksgiving. How to plan a party and holiday party invitation addressing etiquette. All seasonal questions to Didi Lorillard this week before Thanksgiving at NewportManners.com.

Thanksgiving Dos and Don'ts

Dear Didi,

I don't do Thanksgiving. My family doesn't anyway. My parents immigrated from India and we've never celebrated Thanksgiving. My problem is that my fiancé does and we're going to his parent's house for dinner. He says I don't have to bring anything, what do you think? Also, what do I need to know.? Thanking you in advance. M.G., Cambridge, MA

Dear M.G,

Thanksgiving is the all-inclusive holiday not focused on religion, or any one ethnic background, that celebrates by appreciating family and friends. Families and extended families have been celebrating Thanksgiving since 1621, around a meal where everyone brings something to the table. For your first time at your fiancé's family Thanksgiving, watch and listen. Next year you can offer to bring a dish or dessert. This year find a chocolate shop that makes handcrafted fresh chocolate boxed handsomely to present to your future mother-in-law as you walk through the door. Chocolates are safer than flowers, if you don't know her colors, and she won't have to fuss about for a vase and a place to display them; otherwise send flowers ahead of time. Wine may not be sending the best message.

Once your coat is off, ask "What can I do to help? Please, let me know what I can do." You may find yourself whipping heavy cream for the pie or filling water glasses with ice cubes. Your fiancé's family may or may not say grace before starting to eat. It goes without saying that you should dress the weather, leave your cellphone off, don't start eating until everyone is served, raise your glass when there's a toast, never leave the table unless you're clearing the dishes. Don't just offer to to do the dishes, pitch in. By the way, if you're a vegetarian, this is the time to keep that to yourself, because there should be lots of vegetable dishes. Fall into the routine by helping out and you'll be invited back as soon as you've handwritten that thank-you note highlighting your fav memories. ~Didi

Planning a holiday party

Dear Didi,

My wife and I are planning our first Christmas cocktail party and we were wondering if you have any dos and don't for making it a success. We're in our early thirties, we're inviting friends, family and some coworkers to an open house before Christmas. Help, please! Tyler, Providence

Dear Tyler,

As you seem to be on top of the planning already, you know to plan early and detail it out. Take a few of your favorite people aside and ask them about a specific date or two. Weekends obviously would be better for guests who have a commute. If there are those who will be driving an hour or so both ways, make the starting time no later than five o'clock. Otherwise, six o'clock signals cocktails and finger food. When you start later, people will expect dinner. Dinner could mean finding or renting tables and chairs and deciding whether you have the space. The hours 6-8 are perfect, parents can get home in time to put small ones to bed and guests won't be able to get too drunk.

Invitation

Have a great guest address list. Paperlesspost.com is cool for online invites because you not only have your list in front of you, but you can see who's opened the invite and who hasn't. More importantly, if the email address is wrong, you can correct it quickly. Around the holidays, send out the e-vites at least four weeks out. The site will give you a head count from the RSVPs and a spot to specify if children are welcome, and if so, the age range. You also have an option to send snail paper invites to people who don't check email regularly. Now you can plan the party to fit your budget.

Greeting

Remember not everyone will arrive at once, but you'll still need a designated place for coats and possibly umbrellas and boots. If you don't want people leaving wet coats on your bed, a portable coat rack is a great investment, easy to assemble, and the perfect place to hang outerwear in warmer weather. You and your wife should take turns greeting at the door, making sure everyone who enters knows where to put their coat and find a drink.

Singles

Any single person who you suspect doesn't know other guests, should be introduced to as many people as you can manage. The best hosts always circulate. If it's not your turn at the door, you should be making the rounds to be sure everyone is talking to someone with a drink in their hand.

Booze

Having someone other than yourself man the bar gives you the freedom to have fun at your own party, so you're not opening wine and beer bottles the whole time. Some bartenders bring boxes of glasses for a small feee, but after a couple of drinks most people don't care whether they're drinking out of a recycled plastic cup or a beer can.

Finger Food

Having a theme gives continuity so if, for instance, you cover your festively decorated dining room table with the makings for tacos of all sizes, people will help themselves. Cheeses with crackers and pate and sliced ham or salmon with bread, accompanied by mustards and olives are also popular. Stock up on cocktail napkins, bamboo dessert-size plates, plastic recycled glasses, and be sure to have utensils for the cheese and spreaders for the dips. At risk are dips with a large crowd, as it's impossible to control the one dip policy.

The party's over

When you turn up the lights, turn down the music, stop serving booze, and start clearing away the liter and food, most people will get the hint that the party is over. The later the party goes, the more food and booze you'll have to supply and you may even have to make coffee and provide sweet desserts to get them on their feet before the dancing begins again. Know when to end a party. You don't want to find a guest's +1 on your couch the next morning, having forgotten how he got there. Be sure one of you is at the front door to help guests with their coats and say good night as you thank them for coming.

With the first party, start out simply. Then as you gain experience, your holiday parties can get more elaborate. ~Didi

Addressing holiday party invitations to couples

Dear Didi,

How do you address the holiday party invitation if you know the wife and not the husband?

Can you simply address it as Mrs. Jane Doe and spouse/guest? Q.D., Providence

Dear Q.D.,

No, you would address the envelope to Mr. and Mrs. John Doe. Find out if Jane Doe uses her married name or if she didn't change her name when she got married. If she is Mrs. Doe, then all you need is the first name of her husband, which you can ask her for outright (Polite people do that all the time. They say, "How do you like to be addressed?') A good host knows the first as well as the last name of the invitee, because he'll have to introduce him to other guests. It would be rude to use +spouse, +guest, or plus 1, when you don't know the husband's first name. The exception would be if you were using an informal online invitation, say, paperlesspost.com. If you want Mr. and Mrs. Doe to attend your event, then treat them with respect. ~Didi

When the deceased's child is illegitimate

Dear Didi,

My father recently passed away. He was married for over 40 years. My sister and I are the product of an affair my father had with my mother. We never really had a relationship with my stepmother because of this. My father also had several other mistresses who also attended the funeral. My father still had a very beautiful service and my stepmother handled herself beautifully in spite of the situation. Although we didn't have a relationship, I would like to send her a thank-you card for arranging such a really nice service for my father. Is a thank-you card appropriate and if so, what should it say? Kellie, Location withheld

Dear Kellie,

Should you send a thank-you note or a sympathy card? If you've already sent a sympathy card, then write her a short thank-you note saying something such as this:

Dear (insert step-mother's name),

Just a few warm words to thank you for inviting me to my father's service. It was enormously kind and generous of you to invite me and I greatly appreciate your thinking of me. I am deeply sorry for your loss.

Then say something nice but simple about the service, the speakers, the flowers, the music, or the reception....

In the third paragraph, leave her with one of your favorite fond memories of your father, before closing:

With all goodwill,

all appreciation--and

most sincerely,

(sign your name) ~Didi

Do you have a question to ask Didi? Email it to [email protected] or visit her at NewportManners.com . If your question is used, we can withhold your name and address. Didi researches etiquette and all matters of manners for her book,"Newport Etiquette." Prior weekly GoLocalProv.com columns are listed below. More topics can be accessed through a search.

 

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