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Special Feature: Thanksgiving Game Plan

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David Scott, Staff Graphic

Honoring your own traditions helps Thanksgiving feast stay civil, and civilized

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Wednesday, November, 14 By Sonya Vartabedian
Staff writer

The scene is idyllic: Several generations of family gathered around a linen-draped dining room table set with the good china and silver after a day of football, cooking and laughter.

The patriarch, dressed in a jacket and tie, stands at the head of the table as his wife, her neatly pressed dress protected by an equally neatly pressed white apron, presents a perfectly browned turkey on a platter. The balance of guests sit politely | even the children, all smiles, oogling the bird.

Not the scene at your Thanksgiving Day feast? Don't fret. "Thanksgiving is a time to return to the basics of giving thanks," said Judy Bowman, president of Protocol Consultants International. "We have to remember there are a lot of tensions, traffic, frayed nerves and logistical issues associated with Thanksgiving. There are so many family dynamics going on involving this one day."

Things don't have to be perfect at the holiday dinner table, and she'll forgive the occasional lapse from form, provided it's not completely barbaric, says Bowman, etiquette columnist for Community Newspaper Holdings Inc.

People should feel comfortable adding their own special touches to the holidays and preserving family traditions that don't always fit with traditional dining protocol. Bowman's own 16-year-old son, for example, has been helping carve the Thanksgiving turkey at the dinner table since he was 4. Typically, the head of the household does that job. Additionally, etiquette dictates the carving be done in the kitchen, but tradition can, and should, take precedent, she said.

So if the whole crowd is glued to the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade or the continuous string of football games, leave the TV on, though Emily Post would frown. And if an after-dinner nap is par for the course in your home, hand out pillows.

"It's almost like many of the rules get broken on Thanksgiving," said Bowman.

There is a limit, of course, she said. Enjoying a relaxing day with the family doesn't mean decorum should fly out the window when the cooked bird lands on the table.

Marbledhead etiquette expert Jodi R.R. Smith believes Thanksgiving is a special time that warrants everyone's better | if not best | behavior. So while a mid-day snooze and keeping the television on is okay, she said wearing a ripped T-shirt, flicking food you don't like across the table, and sucking the marrow out of the turkey neck in plain view of all the guests are not. That goes for scraping plates clean of uneaten food at the table following the meal and feeding the remains to the dog, too.

"It shouldn't look like feeding time at the zoo," she said. "Your goal should be getting through the meal without grossing anyone out."

Smith believes many people today have not been taught proper manners. So when it's time to gather for a traditional dinner, she said they don't know how to act.

"I don't think it's a matter of people forgetting their manners," said Smith, whose gracious dining courses are among the most popular sessions she offers. "You can't forget something you never learned."

Growing up, Bowman remembers youngsters had to earn the right to graduate from the children's table to the adults' dining table by proving they could demonstrate good manners. "It's a nice time to have children start to practice their manners," said Bowman, "and have them learn how to set the table, even help serve the meal."

By applying a little forethought, Bowman and Smith said hosts and guests can avoid making some of the breeches in protocol that can turn a gathering from civil to surly.

But most importantly, said Bowman, don't go into Thanksgiving expecting a Norman Rockwell kind of day and you won't get frustrated.

"Just go with it and make the best of what you have because we all have so much to be grateful for," she said. "They're still our families and we love them. Enjoy them for who and what they are."

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