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Pretty paper plates can hold flavors of Christmas in good taste

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``Oriental.'' ``Southwest.'' ``Topkapi.'' ``Java.'' New china patterns from Lenox? No -- we're talking about new lines of paper plates, cups, and napkins. Now there's even designer paperware. Paper goods manufacturers, who have introduced an abundance of new fashionable hues and patterns, stretch the bounds of etiquette to include the use of paper for informal sit-down dinners. They argue for practicality as well as prettiness.

But what do the guardians of table etiquette say about entertaining in paper?

Elizabeth Post, a chronicler of changing social rules and author of ``Emily Post's Etiquette,'' says paper goods definitely have their place in today's world.

They are particularly helpful, says this mother and grandmother, during the holiday season, when people have large gatherings and invite more people than they have dishes to serve. In such a case, ``by all means'' bring on the paper plates -- but don't use half china and half paper.

Others have some reservations.

``Entertaining with paper plates and napkins is great, providing you are having a totally informal event out of doors such as a barbecue or picnic,'' says Letitia Baldrige, who has revised and expanded the Amy Vanderbilt Complete Book of Etiquette.

Judith Martin, author of ``Miss Manners' Guide to Excruciatingly Correct Behavior'' argues against using paper plates ``because any kind of food will soak through them.'' (Many of today's sturdier plates, however, are made to be leakproof.)

She disapproves of using paper even in the great outdoors, saying it is ``among the abominations that one has no right to bring to the countryside.''

``No one can eat decently from a paper plate with a plastic fork, since they both might buckle with disastrous results,''she says.

Nevertheless, Hallmark partyware planner Susan Morgenthaler says people who entertain ``are now making up their own rules about decorating and entertaining. They are using paper products in new and unexpected ways, often blending them with their own silver, china, and pottery,'' she says.


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