Modern Manners at the Thanksgiving Table

We love Thanksgiving. Any holiday focused on food and family has got the Blossom Water seal of approval. The table is beautiful, the food fabulous, and the joys of breaking bread with family and friends go without saying.

There are however some tricky aspects to Thanksgiving dinner that might warrant further considertaion. Namely, table manners. Back in the day, Emily Post had our back. She told us how to behave and we did as we were told. Today that instruction is not quite so clear nor easy to follow. For example, Bon Appétit suggests that “Thanksgiving is the ideal time to gently haze new additions to a family—like placing an eager young boyfriend next to a curmudgeonly uncle.” Really?

The famous epicurean guide also advises that professional football is as integral part of Thanksgiving, like “turkey and family tensions”. And yet it elaborates: “If the television must be on, ensure it does not dominate, and turn it off during the meal…” Maybe this could cause some of the aforementioned family tensions? And of course, “No face paint or mascot costumes at the table, ever.”

Regarding conversation, Bon Appétit offers: “The Victorians played a parlor game where participants stood in a circle and tried to keep a feather aloft simply by blowing. Too soft a blow and the feather falls; too hard, and it flies out of the circle. This is exactly how conversation should work: where everyone cooperates to keep a subject afloat, without wallflowers or blowhards deflating things…Conversation should flow while avoiding the twin sins of offense and banality.” ( And of course taboo conversation topics such as sex, religion, money and politics should be avoided at all costs. Maybe the feather game is a better idea?

Most other holiday table manner articles these days focus on technology and how to keep it off the holiday table. A 2013 Huffington Post article published just before Thanksgiving asks etiquette expert Dianne Gottsman to answer these popular questions (

  • How can I ask my mother-in-law to put away her phone?
  • How long can I expect my 16- and 17-year-old teens to sit at the Thanksgiving table after they are finished with their meal?
  • My husband refuses to be without his cell phone. What should I do?
  • Is it okay to give the little ones their PSP to keep them quiet at the table?

Personal Play Station at the Thanksgiving table? Really?! That Victorian feather game is sounding like a better and better idea all the time.