Good manners seem to be the firmament upon which the Thanksgiving holiday rests-and at Lincoln Elementary school, it's never too early for etiquette.

So it has come to be an annual tradition of its own at Lincoln that once a year the children put on their Sunday best, the parents don black and white, and a candlelit dinner is prepared-all to teach the children formal table manners. That's why it's called the Manners Luncheon.

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"It's an opportunity for us to teach our students proper etiquette or manners when eating at a formal dinner, like Thanksgiving and coming up, Christmas and the holidays," Tammy Peterson, principal at Lincoln Elementary, said. "It's an opportunity for them to dress up in their finest clothing, and they are pretty proud of how they look."

Peterson stood at the doorway of the cavernous Lincoln cafeteria space, admiring the children's outfits-the boys often in ties and suit jackets, the girls in dresses-and helping them find a parental escort to the lunch line and then to their tables. Some children ate with grandparents and other family members, and others were served by them.

"It involves our families," Peterson said. "Almost all of these people in the gym, they're all parent volunteers. They aren't staff ... they are wearing black and white to represent the waiters and waitresses. We're giving the students the whole atmosphere, with the music and then the parents are here to seat them."

The air was rich with the smell of gravy and spices, and the children enjoyed classical music piped over the speaker system and a hearty Thanksgiving-style meal. Among the many parent volunteers was Michelle Orton, a member of the Dickinson Public School Board and a mother of two Lincoln Elementary students.

"I think any time we can teach our children anything in school that they can use later in life, besides their education, I think those life skills, those people skills ... it's so important," Orton said. "My oldest son is a fifth-grader; we've been a part of it since. I've helped every year and we look forward to it; it's one of our favorite events. They absolutely love it."