THE TASTEMAKER

We’ve all lived through another holiday. Almost. But I never really consider New Year’s Eve a real holiday. Nobody gets gifts. But Christmas (which is what we celebrate in our family—but everyone, no matter what religion, has the same issues, so I’ll stick with what I know) is fraught. Once again, family, alcohol, budgets, gift exchanges and table manners somehow get jumbled together, and what comes out is just plain ugly at times. So here is one more advice column. I speak to all of you today about “good taste.”

I yearn for the tasteful holiday season. One that is tempered, just one level above modulation, and full of lovely people, wearing few sequins, and having delightful conversation over the mixed nuts. Those same people would move into the dining room, where each one would eat just a single helping of each dish, finish a small glass of wine, and then adjourn back into the beautifully decorated living room to open a few gifts–involving jewels for the women and pipe tobacco/bedroom slippers for the men.

Instead, I get adult children who need to make a beer stop as soon as they get off the plane. There are mudprints on the carpet. A husband who gives his wife things like a car caddy or a waffle iron. People get drunk. Children snivel. But there is a better way, and I am here to show it.

It’s possible to reclaim “good taste” at holiday time. It requires just a few, tiny adjustments. Henceforth, all families might want to follow these tasteful holiday guidelines:

•At holiday gatherings, the hostess usually puts out little bitty ‘cocktail’ napkins. These are not for you to blow your nose in, but rather, for you to hold delicately under the holiday paper plate with a Santa on it. On this plate, you may place a few nuts, one little wienie baked in a crescent roll, and one additional item, such as a cocktail shrimp or a rumaki. And if you discover that rumaki is another name for liver, and you gag; don’t use said cocktail napkin to spit into. Force yourself to swallow the tidbit, and use the napkin to gracefully dab the tears out of your eyes.

•Wear something festive, yet understated. For women, this means leaving your Snooki dress back in New Jersey where it belongs. Instead, choose something made of silk or cashmere, preferably in a muted shade of burgundy or forest green. Those primary colors are fine for the little ones (who better not be having a tantrum right now, but more on that later), but a bit too flashy for family or neighborhood gatherings. Keep it simple. Don’t wear a hoop earring that is bigger than that Santa saucer. For men, the same rule holds true, but in your case, I refer to neckties. If you must wear one (and really, a pinstripe broadcloth under a V-neck from L.L. Bean is totally acceptable—the tie is just gilding the lily), don’t give in to temptation and wear the Rudolph tie that Aunt Sadie gave you last year. A nice burgundy and British racing green “school” tie would be a better choice.

•We all love to have a good time, don’t we? But all that wine has a cumulative effect, and before you can say “Jack Frost,” you are setting up a “Flip Cup” table, and challenging all comers. This is really not what your mother had in mind as she decorated the tree listening to Bing Crosby, now was it?

•And the tykes. Those little bundles of energy with the gleaming little eyes and the velvet dresses and clip on ties. The darlings! Why is it that parents become so entranced with their offspring this time of year? Is it only grandparents and visiting college friends who notice the nose picking and the pet baiting? Wouldn’t it be blissful if children could be seen and not heard–screaming?

•Finally, there is the gift exchange. For celebratory gifting, visit respectable stores. Victoria’s Secret, Frederick’s of Hollywood, and retail establishments that sell pup tents or fishing lures are for immediate family only. Strive for the scented candle, the mitten and matching muffler set, or if you want to think a bit outside of the box, perhaps a bottle of aged Balsamic Vinegar. Forget the inflatable, remote controlled Shark. It will alarm your mother-in-law, and inflame the kiddies into rowdy behavior.

There you have it. A few of my guidelines for a really harmonious and tasteful holiday. Miss Manners would approve. Although I do have it from a reliable source that one year, Judith Martin had to clean some disreputable stains out of her front hall carpet….

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