A napkin ring is a simple thing- some kind of shape with a hole in it that you put a napkin into. These days, people use them for decorative purposes and have matching ones all up and down the table. Of course this is completely fine.
However, in the past, napkin rings were soley for family meals and used to identify each person’s napkin (as they were reused for several meals before being washed.)
In 1922, Emily Post said in Etiquette: “Napkin rings are unknown in fashionable houses outside of the nursery. But in large families where it is impossible to manage such a wash as three clean napkins a day entail, napkin rings are probably necessary. In most moderately run houses, a napkin that is unrumpled and spotless after a meal, is put aside and used again for breakfast; but to be given a napkin that is not perfectly clean is a horrid thought. Perhaps though, the necessity for napkin rings results in the achievement of the immaculate napkin—which is quite a nice thought.”
This is why engraved silver napkin rings were a popular present- everyone’s ring had their initials, making them easily identifiable. My family is WASPY enough that I have a monogramed napkin ring of my very own even though the practice of using napkin rings was dying out by 1985 and we mostly used paper napkins anyway.
Did your family use napkin rings and/or reuse cloth napkins? Is it very common to have monogrammed napkin rings or is this another ridiculous thing that I think is normal?
My partner’s family uses napkin rings and cloth napkins, even for casual meals. They most definitely each have a monogram, but no one is limited to using a mere initial. Guests are offered a choice from the lovely collection. They manage to strike the balance (at least with napkin rings) of using an old(er?) fashioned approach to etiquette between charming family custom and Obsessive Proper Manners. I like scouting antique stores for gifts to add to the collection.
I’ve never thought about this. I did grow up using napkin rings at home, for precisely the reason you state here: we had cloth napkins (rotated seasonally), didn’t want to wash them everyday, but also didn’t want each others germs. We would use the cloth napkins whenever we all sat down for a meal together (usually dinner everyday, sometimes weekend breakfast). We didn’t all have monogrammed napkin rings, they were all just different enough to know which one went with each person.
Again, I’ve never thought about this, but we must have gotten this habit from my Oma and Opa, my father’s German parents. I’ve never seen my Mom’s (American-Midwest) family do this. My Oma and Opa DO have monogrammed silver napkin holders, including several spares they break out when we come to visit. We never really bothered to give guests their own napkin ring in our house, I think that’s when we busted out the paper napkins. And for reference, I grew up during the 90’s, so I guess we were holding on to the tradition long beyond everyone else.
My family was definitely doing this in the 90s (and then we…stopped?) too, so you aren’t alone!