DEAR MISS MANNERS: Each year I have a holiday cocktail party for friends and neighbors. I spend a large amount of time planning, shopping and cooking for this event and I thoroughly enjoy the whole process. I have never complained about how much work it is, the mess, the cost, etc., because I like to entertain. I cook everything from scratch and take great pride in doing so.
The problem is people who bring food even after I politely decline their request of "just tell me what I can bring." One year, it was plates of under-cooked cookies, another it was two extra-large cheesecakes from a bakery.
I only serve foods that do not require the use of a fork because of the logistics of holding the glass, dish, utensil, and napkin and trying not to spill. I was very embarrassed as I explained that I could not serve the cake because I was not prepared with enough utensils for the 50 people in attendance.
What am I supposed to do with this food? What do I say to people who show up with items I am in no way prepared to serve? Am I not entertaining correctly? When I am invited out, I bring a non-food item as a gift for the host to enjoy later.
At this point, I am debating whether or not to host a gathering this year.
GENTLE READER: Oh, don't close down just because your guests are bringing awkward offerings. Why, you could give two parties: your customary one, which sounds charming, and another with the leftovers.
Miss Manners has noted with dismay that the habit of bringing food to a party arose at the same time that acknowledgement of the obligation to reciprocate hospitality declined. The excuse is that it isn't fair to have one person do all the work -- but it is fair when everyone takes a turn, and handing over a dish or a bottle is no substitute.
You should not feel that you have to serve what is brought, or even make an excuse for not doing so. Consider it to be a hostess present only. The phrase you need is, "Oh, thank you, we'll look forward to enjoying this."
DEAR MISS MANNERS: My husband passed away just after last year's holidays, in January. There are some people I hear from very seldom, but definitely at Christmas. First, is it proper for me to send holiday greetings when I have been widowed less than a year? Second, how do I inform others of his passing?
It doesn't seem proper to just write inside the card (if I'm sending it) but I wondered if I should have a small card or note to include with the Christmas greeting that informs them of my husband's passing.
GENTLE READER: You may certainly be in touch with your acquaintance at Christmas, and you should absolutely let them know about your husband. But that is the reverse order of importance.
A Christmas card is not the proper means by which to announce a death. Even a religious one announces itself as primarily celebratory. Miss Manners recommends that, this year, you write plain notes telling your sad news and wishing your friends the best.