The holiday table


After witnessing the Thanksgiving meal last week, it was suggested that a review of table manners and place settings for the holidays are in order.

Not gonna tell you who suggested the review or what retired firefighter The Wife said needed the review, but I think you can guess correctly.

Many things have gone out of style since those seven years my three brothers, my sister, and I spent growing up at 110 Flamingo Street. Unfortunately using correct table manners ain’t one of them.

You’d think I, as an adult, could sit anywhere and eat any way I wanted to, and for the most part you’d be correct. But the holidays are once again upon us, and all dining room etiquette shall be followed.

And yes, for those who are dining room-less, don’t worry. Eat-in kitchen etiquette is the same. Just in a much smaller space.

Yep, it’s time to pull out chairs for the ladies, tuck napkins under freshly washed chins with freshly washed hands, and by all means keep both elbows off the linen tablecloth. This lesson is about to begin.

Growing up, I thought that to enjoy any holiday feast all I had to bring to the table was a large appetite. Nope, Mom made each of us help her set the table long before any food appeared.

First up: the tablecloth and table runner. Both had to be ironed before being used. You see, even with tons of food on top, a wrinkled tablecloth and table runner were unacceptable and would simply ruin the entire meal. Mom also placed a thick pad under both. Seems she didn’t want us to cut into the expensive table.

Each place setting had to be flanked by two of each: glasses, knives (blade turned to the inside, of course), forks, and napkins.

Multiple glasses, knives, and forks I could almost understand, but double up on napkins? Mom knew we seldom used one and never two. After all, we didn’t need napkins to wipe our hands or mouths. That’s what shirts were for. And yes, she made us wear them at every meal.

Originally I thought one plate would work fine. Pile food on it. Eat food. Then repeat. Boy, was I wrong.

It seems something called a charger goes under each plate. Its function is to keep anything from falling on and staining the tablecloth. Same thing goes under a soup bowl.

I told Mom to just get rid of the tablecloth – stain problem gone. She smiled and mumbled something about how getting rid of all the kids would get rid of most of the stains.

She smiled again, and then added a second smaller plate. This one was for bread and had its own little knife. I think it was for butter, but even now I’m still not really sure.

A cup, saucer, and soup bowl rounded out the table place setting. Add a few candles and you’d think the table was ready and dinner would be well on its way. Nope, Mom was only getting started.

A quick lesson in correct table manners was always conducted after the table was set. “We don’t want to embarrass family in front of family,” she’d always say. In the family room she sat us all down, and marching orders were issued. Each year her orders were the same.

If we thought eating with our mouths open, slurping, or using forks like shovels were all acceptable behavior around a dinner table, then we could eat outside with the other animals.

Likewise if she saw or heard any of the following activities: burping, talking with mouths full, or tossing food then catching it with any part of the body – especially the mouth.

Scraps from the table were not to be fed to the dog under the table or any other member of the family.

With Thanksgiving gone and Christmas right around the corner, you bet I’ll be brushing up on all the holiday table etiquette I can remember from long ago.

So which one of the above rules did yours truly disobey and embarrass The Wife at a holiday dinner last week?

Who said it was just one?

[Rick Ryckeley, who lives in Senoia, served as a firefighter for more than two decades and has been a weekly columnist since 2001. His email is His books are available at]