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Holidays: What a setup!

At our house Thanksgiving is the first day that the dining room table has been set – I mean really set – in months.

As I have been coached through the years, this is something I always do the day or night before any holiday to save time for cooking, baking and unexpected kitchen calamities the next day. The pumpkin pies may flop but the table is set.

This year I was reminded how there are many elements that remain the same. The same gravy boat comes out year after year. The same oblong dish for green beans.

But things change, too. One holiday I'll use the white bone china. The next, a more contemporary china set.

Days before, as happened again this year, my mother will call and ask if she should polish her sterling silverware for us to borrow. When I answer “Hmm, I don't know yet,” she will tell me to make up my mind before it's too late to get the job done.

If I'm not careful, she may even withdraw her offer to lend me her turkey-shaped salt and pepper shakers.

I love rediscovering the items I have not used in months – the things that will be used more often now that the holidays and cold-weather dining have returned.

I have tablecloths that have been passed down from my in-laws. Eva Zeisel platters I borrowed from my mother years ago and never returned. A serving spoon I paid too much for at a store in New York.

This year the child-size silverware did not come out for Thanksgiving because the youngest – our daughter – is 13.

Of course she has outgrown the set but, any day of the year, she prefers using a salad fork instead of a larger dinner fork.

It's too big, she'll say. We find this hysterical.

Setting the table is not something we save only for holidays, of course. Even for casual dinners in the kitchen, the meal calls for a knife and spoon to be placed to the right of the plate, a fork or forks to the left, with a napkin.

It's the way I grew up. I recall how my grandmother, after a family meal in her later years, used to point out the unused utensils and say, “Here, you can put these away. No one used them.”

My mother would reply, “Oh, Mom, they've been out on the table. We're going to wash them.”

For holidays and special dinners, utensils galore and more come out, of course. The ice bucket. The cloth napkins. The turkey platter. The glass carafes for cider because I allow no plastic jugs on the table.

Then today, on this morning after Thanksgiving, I'll look at the table leaves leaning against the wall, waiting to be put away. The last of the goblets to be hand-washed. The mound of dish towels that needs to be laundered. Those silly turkey-shaped salt and pepper shakers.

And I'll know it was all worth it.