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Revisiting 'old fashioned' table manners to reclaim the holiday as one for bonding with loved ones over a well-dressed table.
Christmas is an exciting time; a time to re-unite with loved ones and squeeze around the family table with siblings. Despite being all grown up, it’s amazing how quickly adult children re-assume their family roles, from their places at the table to the petty sibling squabbles.
When I was a child we had a long list of table manners and etiquettes to which we had to adhere: don’t speak with your mouth full; don’t eat with your mouth open; no elbows on the table, etc. If you wanted the salt, for example, you asked for it. (One of my grandmothers attended a boarding school where they weren’t even allowed for things to be passed, they had to offer to pass things in the hope that the gesture would be returned.)
I feel I’m reaching an age where the phrase “in my day” hovers about my lips more and more. Not so much because I’m old but because our world and its ethos change so rapidly.
Christmas, like no other time of year, hangs on to old traditions (in New Zealand we have pictures of snowmen and snowflakes even though most New Zealanders have never had a white Christmas). Let’s celebrate Christmas by holding on to some of our great dining traditions (and letting go of others).
No matter what’s on the table, whether it’s turkey, ham or nutloaf, let’s try to get around it with people we care about; family, in-laws, friends or neighbours. The communal act of eating is in great part about sharing ideas and cultural values; take the time to talk—preferably between bites, no need to share globules of chewed food too.
One of the most widely adopted Christmas traditions (one we can happily sacrifice) is stuffing food down our gullets so quickly that we barely register eating it, let alone tasting it. Every now and then, throughout the year, I deliberately try to slow down my eating—finishing a mouthful before I prepare the next—and I’m always amazed at what an effort it is.
My other grandmother (not the one who went to boarding school) used to host diplomatic soirees and would deliberately pace her eating so that she finished at the same time as the slowest guest; not only super polite and classy but a good way to moderate speed eating.
Above all else, enjoy the festive season. May your turkey be moist, your peanuts brittle and your stocking the only thing that feels overly stuffed.