Hasn’t it been an incredibly beautiful autumn? Watching the leaves turn their magnificent shades of russet and gold puts me in the mood for fires, feasts and long evenings spent with my family, eating comforting foods and quietly enjoying each others companionship. Because the holiday season is soon to be upon us I’m already planning my menus and of course trying to decide how to set my tables, which is for me always the most fun of all!
I’ve been thinking for quite sometime now about family gatherings, and what they mean to us. As I was growing up, there were beautiful things that my mother always used on her table, seasonal items that made each celebration unique. When I was very young, she taught me to fill her traditional wicker cornucopia at Thanksgiving with an overflowing abundance of fruits, nuts and flowers, a centerpiece that I still create today. This beautiful symbol of harvest abundance has long been associated with the turning of the wheel of the year towards autumn.
For many years, traditional woven cornucopias were difficult to find, but thankfully almost any craft store sells them year round. It is also possible to create the same effect with a lovely basket, made from wicker or any other material. Don’t limit yourself to using the cornucopia for only Thanksgiving though. I’ve filled them with Christmas balls, candy canes, holly and ivy and lots of pine boughs for a festive look on the sideboard.
Many of us have beautiful pieces of antique silver, gorgeous family pieces, stashed away and rarely used. I encourage you to examine those long forgotten treasures for a suitable vessel to create your holiday centerpiece.
Many pieces of silver can be used as centerpieces, even if this was not their original purpose. I’ve even used a tea service as a beautiful seasonal arrangement by filling each piece with flowers and surrounding them with gourds, fruit and nuts.
Single salt cellars or antique cordial glasses each filled with a small bouquet can be used as individual centerpieces on your table, making each guest feel very special. Once you’ve chosen the pieces to work with, the fun begins! Have fun arranging it so that all of the lusciousness and sensuality of the season spills out everywhere!
A simple trip to the grocery store will provide you with lots of inspiration! Mini pumpkins that you can paint and/or gild, bunches of grapes, French chestnuts, pears and apples, squashes and gourds, the choices are endless! Don’t forget some lovely mums, sunflowers or even roses to poke in and out of the abundance of fruit. If you use roses, don’t forget the florist’s tubes so that they stay fresh.
For Thanksgiving If you have children, don’t forget to add some lovely foil wrapped chocolate turkeys and pilgrims! Until my mother died, my son still looked for them as soon as we walked into her house Thanksgiving eve! After Thanksgiving, out came her Christmas Carolers and her collections of angels and bells. If you have young children, bundle them up and send them outside for acorns, rosehips, seed pods and beautiful leaves to bring a bit of wildness into your holiday arrangements.
For many years while I was setting tables at my store the most commonly asked question was “ My dishes always look the same, no matter what I do , so how can I make my table look festive and seasonal?”
Color and texture will make the difference between the same old thing and a look for your table that’s fresh and new!
Accents of strong color that you personally love will always do great things for your holiday spirits. For example, even a plain gold and white dinnerware pattern can be turned into an elegant holiday expression with the addition of a different salad ,soup or charger plate.
For a smaller investment than an entirely new set of dishes, you can create a table that is uniquely yours. If your dinnerware is heavily patterned, why not use a lovely colored wine or water glass that matches your plate!
I love to play with fabrics this time of year, in jewel toned hues of flecked with lots of silver and gold; anything that evokes the peace of the season and remember, Christmas does not have to be red and green!
A floral or toile tablecloth will completely change the look of any dinnerware that you own, dressing up a casual dish, or warming up a very formal setting. One of my favorite tables mixes velvet and tapestry, to create a look that is very rich and warm.
A velvety tablecloth cloth in a deep shade of burgundy, with the top draped in tapestry changes the look of the simplest dish. Add an oversized napkin in a colorful crepe fabric and stuff it you’re your water glass, or tie it with a beautiful fabric ribbon and you have a table that everyone wants to linger at.
Lots of candlesticks, always in odd numbers will finish the setting. Don’t be afraid to mix pewter, silver, brass and copper. Anything goes as long as you love the way that it looks. Choose one color for the candles and enjoy the lovely glow!
I love serving soup in many different ways, but a beautiful soup tureen is always closest to my heart. I’ve often said that if I had a serving piece that I would refuse to part with; it would be my Herend soup tureen in the Poisson pattern. Covered with beautiful handpainted fish, and bordered in deep sage green and gold, it moves through all of the seasons effortlessly. If I’m not using it for soup, it turns into a grand centerpiece for my table with the addition of about three small pots of flowers and masses of fresh herbs and ivy! At Christmas I surround it with a beautiful wreath and mound pretty little gilded birds and pine cones all around it.
A smaller soup tureen like the one shown above is portable, and you can use it in the living room with all of your demitasse cups for an elegant start to the evening. No one ever uses demitasse cups for their intended purpose ( coffee) and almost everyone that I know has inherited huge collections of them. Because they have handles, and a place to rest the spoon, soup is a fabulous way to use these often overlooked pieces!
I've also served many different soups in a large hollowed out pumpkin that has been placed in a wreath of gilded greens and fruits, yet another easy and gorgeous centerpiece!
A small glass of wine and a bit of cheese and /or pate served with the soup while you’re putting the finishing touches on the rest of the meal makes waiting for dinner a celebration in itself and a delightful way to begin the family evening.
Those same demitasse cups could be filled with a creamy mousse for dessert (with chocolate shavings and whipped cream of course!) alongside of all of the traditional pies and cakes that my family loves to consume during the holidays.
For me, satisfying entertaining has everything to do with keeping the evening warm and personal, even if you’ve got a real crowd on your hands!
On Thanksgiving and Christmas, one of our favorite family traditions is to go around the table and have each person share what they are grateful for that year.
Another holiday tradition that I love is to have everyone who joins us bring something to share that they ate with their families, in a serving piece that is special to them.
Don’t leave the table without letting everyone sitting there know just how much they mean to you.
Take a pear, a gold or silver marker from the craft store and handwrite your guest’s names on each one for a quick and easy place card so they know just how much they belong! My mother always buys little tin pans from the grocery store, so that everyone takes home a bit of the meal for their lunch the next day. Why not share your family recipes, perhaps copied onto pretty paper or recipe cards so that you can give them out. (Don’t be modest; you know they’re going to ask!) This year, teach your children or grandchildren to cook with you, or let them help you set the table, and arrange the flowers so that they’ll always know what to do when they have families of their own. We can all discover new ways of connecting the old with the new, ways of creating traditions that are personal and related in a world that is quickly losing its sense of peace and security.
Those are a few of mine; I’d love to know some of yours!
Pumpkin soup tureen nor the colored glassware pictures are not mine but i have no idea who to attribute them to.