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The AWN Traditions and Protocol Team hopes you will enjoy this post about table settings and “dressing” the table—a time to reflect on family and all of our blessings.


With the holidays fast approaching, it’s a great time to keep up your family traditions or experiment with new decoration ideas. You can set the table with varying heights for the appetizers and use festive table linens, candles, and a centerpiece!

In the South, the pineapple has long been a symbol of hospitality, so that’s a good start at creating a beautiful centerpiece. It can be enhanced by surrounding it with clove-studded lemons and perhaps magnolia leaves.

Those of you who have lived in Germany may have acquired some of the pretty red Waechtersbach pottery with the green Christmas tree design, and that can add a festive touch to your table. Whatever you do, we encourage you to continue with your decorating traditions, whether for just the two of you, with kids, or during virtual gatherings with family and friends!

Now is also a great time for you and the family to share in practicing proper table setting. It’s fairly simple to place the utensils and glasses in their correct spots, and it’s helpful for children to grow up knowing what goes where. So here are a few tips:

Above is a diagram of the fanciest place setting you will ever see. Of course, almost no one uses this many utensils, glasses, etc. By mentally removing the pieces you don’t need, you are left with the placement of the ones you do need. Of course, as pieces are removed, the remaining ones are moved in closer to the plate.

Here’s a simple rule to remember: the place settings are set in the order of the courses, starting from the farthest away from the plate and working your way in. Some people even copy and laminate this place-setting diagram and have it handy to follow or show their service member and children to follow when they are helping to set the table.

Here are some other good-to-know pointers about setting the table:

  • Be sure to notice which direction the knife blades are pointed. The blades should be facing toward the plate.
  • The glass placement starts with the water glass that sits just above the tip of the dinner knife.
  • The napkins are often placed to the left of the forks, folded in a decorative way and placed in a variety of places, or placed in napkin rings to the left, above, or on the plate. 
  • Any centerpiece needs to be low enough for those sitting across from each other to be able to see over it.
  • Traditionally, candles were only used when a little extra light was needed (so not at breakfast).  When candles are used, they should always be lit. They create a beautiful ambiance.
  • When a spill occurs, treat it quickly—depending on the type of spill and where it happened. Red wine on the carpet is difficult to handle, but club soda makes it almost disappear if treated quickly. Any spill on the tablecloth can be blotted up and then covered with salt until later.
  • Seating people properly, even if it’s just your family, is important. Usually, the host and hostess sit on each end of the table, and the seat to the right of each of those two goes to the honored male and female. For more details, read Chapter 18 of The Army Spouse Handbook (TASH).
  • Chapter 17 in TASH has much more information that might be interesting and useful to you, such as place cards, table linens, and table appearance.

We wish you and yours a happy holiday season; enjoy these tidbits, and remember, above all, be gracious and adaptable!


  • Protocol and Etiquette Team

    Ann Crossley and Ginger Perkins are the authors of "The Army Spouse Handbook," the go-to guide for the 21st century Army spouse. The 440-page book describes situations that you may encounter as an Army spouse, irrespective of your spouse’s rank or assignment. The book is not meant to be read from cover-to-cover, but kept handy and used as a reference book when you need to know what to expect in social situations. Michelle Hodge, a seasoned spouse, has taught protocol and customs classes and continues to be an advocate for soldiers and family members. Lynda Smith, the newest member of the Traditions and Protocol team, enjoys finding new ways to bring old Army traditions to life with fun and humorous experiences, a little old-school vibe, and a modern twist.


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