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CHAPTER SIX: MEALTIMES AND MANNERS--PART TWO, FESTIVALS, FEASTS, AND CELEBRATIONS
There are any number of Special Occasions that may call for more Elaborate Meals than the Ordinary. From Naming Days, to Birthdays, to Weddings, from Yule to Lithe, from the Spring Festivals and Harvest Festivals--all these may be marked by a Feast of some sort.
And there are other Occasions as well: the Advent of a Guest from afar may occasion a Dinner to Welcome him or her; the announcement of a Momentous Event, such as a Betrothal or the Impending Arrival of an Heir; or a Farewell Supper for a special Guest of Honor. All these and others are reasons to hold a Party, and to serve Fine Food.
Festivals are held on Holidays and other Occasions by entire Communities of Hobbits: Yuletide and the Lithedays are Celebrated the Shire over; in Michel Delving is the Free Fair, in Buckland, Budgeford, and the North Farthing are held Spring Festivals, while in Tuckborough and Hobbiton Harvest Fests are held. In the Southfarthing there are the Leafdays and the Cherry Blossom Gala. Many other Towns and Villages have their own various Celebrations throughout the year.
Festivals and Fairs may last only a day or so, or as long as a week. During that time, the entire Community comes together for a number of Feasts. These Special Dinners are provided by All who Attend them. Each family brings a dish or dishes to Share. These are placed on Large Tables, as though on a Sideboard, and all the Guests serve themselves.
The Rule of Thumb is to bring a Dish large enough to feed thrice as many Hobbits as are in one’s own Immediate Family. However, most Families see fit to bring Far More than the Rule calls for. Needless to say, there is more Variety to be found at such a Meal than at an ordinary one.
It is Polite to Inquire who Cooked a certain Dish, especially if it is one found to be Especially Delicious. Questions as to the Reciept may be made, however if the Maker declines to Answer on the grounds that it is a Family Secret, it is most Improper to Press him or her on the subject.
When the Signal for the Meal is given, the Children go first, faunts accompanied by a Parent. (However, the Parent at this time should Refrain from serving his or her own Plate.) The faunts are followed by older Children and Teens, and then by the Tweens. Only after all the Younglings have been served should the Adults then queue up for their own Meals. If one’s family should include the Elderly or Feeble, then one should prepare a Plate for that person first and take it to him or her, before obtaining one’s own.
A number of Tables are provided at most Festivals. Some of these are designated for the Children and Tweens. Adults may choose to sit at the other Tables, or even to Carry their Plates About, and Converse as they eat standing up. At such an Event, this is not Improper. However, it is Ill-Advised, especially with a Heavily Laden Plate. It is very difficult to Juggle one’s Plate, Cutlery and Drinking Vessel while carrying on a Conversation!
One may continue to return for Further Helpings until no more Food is left.
At the meal’s end, there is usually provided a Tent or Pavilion where those items are to be washed. This Service is generally Provided by local Tweens.
Unlike Festivals, these are Dinners prepared and provided by a Family to serve some special Familial Occasion. In the large Houses of the Great Families, there are also Lesser Feasts. At both the Great Smials and Brandy Hall, for example, Feasts are held each week upon the Highday.
On these occasions, the Head of the Family and his (or in the case of Widows, her) Immediate Family, and any Guests of Honor, will be seated at the Main Table. The Head generally is seated at the Center of the Table on these Occasions, rather than at the Head of the Table, as in more Intimate settings.
Other Members of the family will be seated at other Tables placed around the Hall. It is, once more, customary to provide separate Tables for the Children and Tweens.
On these Occasions, the Table should be Laid with the finest of Linen, Dishes, Cutlery and Vessels. In addition to the usual Fork, Knife and Spoon, a Salad Fork and Soup Spoon may be included. The inclusion of other Cutlery is rather Ostentatious. However, if one finds oneself confronted with such an Array, one should simply remember to begin with those items of Silver at the Outside of the Place Setting, and work one’s way in. It is Unlikely that one will encounter such a Display in a Household in which the Family Head is of the Sensible Sort.
I have been informed by a more or less Reliable Witness, that among Other Races, it is Customary for Servants to bring each Dish separately to the Table, and then stand next to Each Diner and apportion out one Serving, after which the Food is returned to the Kitchen! Such a proceeding seems to me Very Impractical. How would they have Seconds or Thirds, or Fill Up their Corners? However, I have also been assured by that same Reliable Witness that Big Folk do not often even eat Seconds, much less Thirds!
Hobbits are Far More Sensible. Servants bring the Dishes and Platters, and place them upon the Tables. The Diners then may serve themselves, and pass the Dishes Round. At a large Table, it is wise to place Two of each Dish, one near each end, to assure that there is Enough for all at the Table.
At Feasts, it is Customary to bring each Course out, one at a time. First, the Soup and Salad, and then the Main Dish and its Accompanying Side Dishes, and then finally, the Afters. However the Servants should not take away any Dishes from Previous Courses unless they are Completely Empty.
At such Feasts, also, it is customary to bring out Platters of small Finger Foods, for the Filling Up of Corners.
In Lesser Families, or in Smaller Gatherings, it is better to place All the Food upon the Table at Once. If space for Eating is Limited, then some of the Later Courses could be laid upon the Sideboard nearby, and brought to the table by a Servant or a Younger Member of the Family at the Proper Point in Time.
Most Feasts, of course are in Celebration of something Special. However certain Celebrations have their own Traditions, which are then presented within the Feast.
At Birthdays, it is Customary for the Eldest Guest present to offer a toast in honor of the byrding, just before the cutting of the Cake. If the byrding is a child not yet in his or her tweens, he or she receives the First Slice of the Cake. Also if an Adult byrding happens to be Guest of Honor in the home of another, he or she would receive the first slice. However, if the byrding is also the Host or Hostess, then he or she receives the last piece as is normally done. The rest of the Cake is served out, beginning with the Youngest present and working up to the Eldest. If there are no children present, this last rule may be somewhat Relaxed.
At Weddings, there is the Custom of the Wedding Cake. In Shire Tradition, a Silver penny is baked into the Cake. If a child or tweenager, or an adult over eighty, find it, it means Good Luck--which of course is only reasonable since they are now a Penny the richer--but if an older lass or lad, still unwed, find it, it means they will soon Wed. If they are already wed, it means a Child will soon be on the way. But if the Bride or Groom should find it, it means they will have a Child Within the Year. And there are some who even say, if the Groom finds it, it means a Daughter, and if the Bride finds it, it means a Son. This is, of course, only a Charming and Whimsical Superstition, and few put any Stock in it. However, it often leads to a good deal of Teasing of the One who finds the Penny. It has never to my Experience, however, fallen to the Bride or Groom to actually Find the Penny.
Just prior to the Cutting of the Cake, it is the Duty of the Hobbit who stood with the Groom to offer a Toast and a small Speech in Honor of the Newly-wedded Couple.
The Bride and Groom together Cut the Cake, and the first piece goes by Tradition to the Officiator. The rest of the pieces are passed down the table, and the Bride and Groom take the last two slices.
Of course at a Naming Day Feast, the Guest of Honor is not Capable of Appreciating the honor, and it is truly more for the Sake of the Parents. However, it is customary for the Child to be Present, usually in a Cradle placed near the Mother.
Near the End of the Meal, usually during Afters, the Head of the Family will rise and offer a Blessing to the New Family Member, and present a Gift, which usually consists of a Vessel, Dish or Spoon made especially for a small child to eat from. Then each Guest will rise in turn and offer a Wish or Blessing for the Child.
In some Families, it is customary at Yule to have a Flaming Pudding for Afters. This is brought with great Ceremony to the Table, and placed before the Head of the Family.
And it must not be Forgotten, that on the Occasion of Overlithe, it us Usual to have a Midnight Feast!
Questions often asked about Festivals and Feasts:
At a Festival, what is the proper way to deal with a Person who cuts ahead of One in the queue?
If it is a Child or Tween, a sharp word of Reproof, and sending him or her to the back of the queue is in Order. However, should an Adult behave so Rudely, there is sadly no Recourse other than a Look of Reproach.
What is the best way to Respond if one is toasted at a Feast?
This is quite likely to occur if One is a Visitor. It is considered Courteous of the Host to honor a Guest thusly. If it is a brief Word of Welcome, then a Polite Nod of the Head is sufficient Acknowledgement. However, if the Host should offer words of Praise, then one should rise and Thank him or her, and offer a Small Speech in recognition of the Honor.
A Guest should always bow and thank his or her host, both Before and After the meal.
What if there are Two byrdings at a Birthday Party?
This is a not Uncommon Occurrence when more than one Family Member share a Birthday. Under such Circumstances, the Elder byrding is considered the Main Honoree.
There are any number of Special Events that should be marked by Celebration. One should always be Careful not to let the Spirit of Merry-making to overcome one’s Manners.
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