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The Dining A La King guide to enjoying the holidays

It’s the holidays, and for some reason we gather around more this time of year.

Thanksgiving leads headlong into Christmas and New Year’s. We eat and make merry. It’s what is expected of us this time of year and most of us are happy to do so.

As the holidays approach, you can find etiquette guides offering counsel on how to be polite and unmemorable. That’s boring. That’s not really living. And this time of year can be tricky to navigate. So this year, here’s my advice:

Have fun, but not too much. If there’s a company Christmas party with alcohol, relax and enjoy yourself, but be safe. Parties are more fun, more memorable, if the guy who never meets your eye suddenly gets chatty or starts telling everyone how much he loves them. That shared experience can bond co-workers. You want that guy at your party. You’ll have more fun. But you don’t want to be that guy or gal. So don’t be that guy or gal. And be smart if you get behind the wheel.

Bring interesting food. This is a rule of mine no matter the holiday, no matter the event. I sometimes fail and break my own rule. But holiday parties are better with better food. Duh. Don’t be the chatty guy, but be the person who brought the dish everyone’s talking about or for which they demand the recipe. Bring your mother’s party mix. Bring your family’s famous kifli cookies. But don’t just bring a bag of chips.

Buy local when you can. If you want ham or a prime rib roast, get one from a local butcher. If you don’t have time to bake cookies, find a cookie walk or local bakery. Buy local chocolate, beer or fruitcake. It helps the local economy.

Be gracious to your host. Brave is the person who offers to host a holiday gathering. There’s the usual work to get ready, plus the pressure to decorate and provide holiday food, which sometimes takes more effort than regular celebration food. Taking someone a small gift if they host a party is a nice gesture. Let them off the hook to open your bottle or cookies for the event by saying, “That’s for you to enjoy later.”

Say thanks. If the company gets you a gift, throws you a party or just feeds you lunch, find a higher-up to thank. It’s not kissing up. It’s called being grateful and most of us don’t do enough of it. If you’re at your mom’s for Christmas, say thanks. She probably needs that more than whatever you wrapped for her.

Stay away from danger. Commenting on what someone wore? Dangerous. Starting a conversation about religion, politics or both? Potentially volatile. We’re all pretty wound up this holiday season. We’re a little tense about our differences. A holiday party may not be the place to air those or try to get someone to believe like you do. It’s probably safer to debate the merits of egg nog or whether the Grinch’s heart really did grow three sizes that day.

Don’t talk about how you shouldn’t eat something or your impending diet. It’s the holidays. We all know we’re indulging. It’s what we do. It’s dark and cold outside. Chocolate makes us feel good. So shut up and stop pretending it doesn’t. When you talk about how you shouldn’t eat something, I won’t enjoy it less, but I may enjoy you less. Let’s just all agree that we’re overeating, that we want to do better after the holidays, that we’ll work at moderation. But let’s not talk about it now or make each other feel guilty. Please.

Eat salads when no one’s looking. You can’t indulge on cookies non-stop plus have some of that special brew called G.L. Perry’s Winter Warmer at Iechyd Da and be able to fit into everything by the time the camels would come on Epiphany on Jan. 6. It stinks, but it doesn’t work that way. So you’ve got to eat vegetables. And fruit. Nosh on the oranges and grapefruits you bought from the Lions Club or Goshen Music Boosters. Just eat something that was alive as a plant recently.

Keep moving. Like eating healthy food at least some of the time, going for an extra walk, run or fitness class won’t hurt us. It won’t completely counteract the indulging, but it’ll help. Again, we know January is coming and we’ll try to do better, but keeping moving now will help it hurt less later.

Take time to give. If you can do something nice for someone else, do it. If you can volunteer to ring bells for Salvation Army or help a family in need, you’ll make our community stronger by doing so. It could be as simple as giving your favorite server a big tip, but it’s the season to give and that doesn’t mean you have to spend money to do so. Maybe you should make a batch of cookies to give to all the people who say they shouldn’t be eating sugar. Just give.

Be safe this holiday season. I hope you and yours have a wonderful time in the coming days.

I’m hungry. Let’s eat.

Marshall V. King is food columnist for Flavor 574 and community editor for The Elkhart Truth. You can reach him at 574-296-5805,, and on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

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