Thanksgiving table settings, in my experience has been a more formal occasion from other meals and family gatherings. However, I was raised in a rural community so the standard of living was not a five star hotel quality experience by any means. My mother had formal training and a life in the city before she fell in love with her country boy husband, my father. She was bound and determined that her children would not grow up uneducated on proper etiquette. Yes ma’am, we had formal meals with chargers and goblets. However, we didn’t have three course meals. There was dinner and then there was desert, if we were lucky.
Despite my mother’s efforts, the different sizes of forks didn’t take on any more meaning than the smaller one fits in my mouth better and the bigger one has more shoveling capacity. In fact I don’t know that we ever had enough matching utensil sets to ever really set a perfect formal table. We had nice dishes, but with so many kids and a father who ran-off with the the spoons for lunch at work, it was tough to keep a full set around. Looking back, I suppose we looked kinda cute trying so hard to set a nice table with mismatched dishes. But I loved it. Setting the table was my favorite job for family gatherings.
In our small home, especially with all the extended family and the extensive table decorations, buffet style was usually the way the meal was served. This may have also had something to do with the sheer amount of food. There was simply not enough room for Aunt Lou’s gluten-free stuffing, Grandma’s whole wheat stuffing, and mom’s cornbread stuffing. For everything to fit, and everyone to get a fair shake at at least a little taste of everything — if you like celery in your stuffing — it had to be a buffet. This eliminated the need for salad plates or soup bowls at the table. Actually, salad plates, in my childhood view were actually just plates made for small people such as my younger siblings.
The good news, from our hodgepodge efforts at a formal Thanksgiving dinner, I was not completely lost when I found myself seated at a formal meal in a fancy hotel. I was not taunted by three plates, three forks, two goblets and a coffee cup. Nervous, but not overwhelmed as I could have been, if not for my mother. By that time I knew what a salad fork looked like and to start from the outside and work inward. Thank heaven’s! That was not the time to be asking for instructions.
The point I am trying to make is this. A homemade Thanksgiving dinner is exhausting effort. Formal table settings may seem like overkill and create an seemingly unnecessary amount of dishes to clean. Please remember to look past the extra work and recognize the opportunity this is to prepare your kids for life one day. The cooking can be a bonding experience with your child. Trust him or her enough to let them help prepare the turkey and bake pies. The formal table setting is a teaching opportunity. Trust your son or daughter to set the table with the fine china. Broken dishes, if something does break, can be replaced and aren’t worth getting angry about. These moments may never come again, don’t lose them.
Make Thanksgiving a time to remember how to be refined. Stop and actually taste your food, be grateful for the good things in your life and reflect on how you have changed over the past year. Despite everything life continues to throw at us almost daily, we have so much to be thankful for.
I have included a diagram of a formal table setting and a video to help you set your Thanksgiving table, in case you are completely lost.
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