Smaller holiday table settings can still be challenge

By April Lisante
Posted 12/9/20

As fewer family members and friends join us around the table for a big feast, it presents an opportunity to make our tables homey, festive and welcoming, with a laid back, personal touch.

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Smaller holiday table settings can still be challenge


Most holiday tables have the requisite fine china, cloth napkins and fancy stemware, but this year, our holiday dinners are going to be a bit less formal and a lot more cozy.

As fewer family members and friends join us around the table for a big feast, it presents an opportunity to make our tables homey, festive and welcoming, with a laid back, personal touch.

Typically, hosts order elaborate, stuffy floral arrangements, or place formal candlesticks down the center of the table, but using natural and even edible materials for the tablescape is trending in a big way right now in the spirit of all that is homespun and DIY.

Bringing nature inside to our tables is nothing new. We snip lilac branches in spring, or hollyberry branches right about now. But using foods like veggies, fruits, herbs and desserts as table art, or showcasing small tree rounds and vines as decor, can really be a showstopper, promoting sustainability by creating little waste.

Researching where to begin and what to use can be daunting. You can go as simple as clove-pierced oranges stacked high in a tureen or create a living sculpture with herbs and lettuces in water. You can arrange pomegranates with artichokes or make a holiday tree centerpiece with a pineapple. Potting herbs in individual containers, then grouping them together in the center of the table works as a large arrangement which can then be broken down and taken home with guests. Almost nothing is off limits on a holiday table, when you get creative.

One of the first keys to success for a centerpiece is choosing the right vessel. Scrap the glass vase and find a fancy bowl, a soup tureen or a galvanized bucket.

Then, keep your color scheme in mind.

Rosemary and cranberries are two of the most sought-after embellishments this month for their vibrant colors, along with pomegranates.

“Whether you are doing a centerpiece or a tablescape, you can’t go wrong with rosemary or cranberries,” said Melissa McDevitt, co-owner of Seedling and Sage Catering in Glenside.

McDevitt’s company caters all kinds of holidays, weddings and events, and what she’s seeing is all about sustainability in the materials people choose as décor.

“It is in style to eat more healthfully, and seasonal herbs and fruits are being used [on the table]. It is about how you are setting the table. It goes further than the plate,” McDevitt said.

McDevitt and business partner Laura Kidwell, both Springfield Township residents, have seen a flurry of catering activity now that the holidays have kicked off. Though there are no large gatherings of late, she says holiday tables at home can easily reflect what had been on trend at events prior to the pandemic: nature-inspired, modern farmhouse.

“We are seeing a lot of large barn tables. Eucalyptus is used, as well as vines and greenery,” McDevitt said. “Branches against white marble or quartz gives it a woodsy look and gives people a feeling of more sustainability. You’re not spending money on something that’s going to die soon.”

She also recommends placing sprigs of herbs, even rosemary, atop napkins or tucked in a napkin or napkin ring to give the table an outdoorsy feel and to inspire some scent. If you need to place a food platter on the table, or raise candles, use cut tree rounds, like birch. These mini stumps are apparently real big right now.

If you feel adventurous, another big trend to try is the home bar, a separate area set up with a signature cocktail. Seedling and Sage bottles cocktails, including a holiday “Mistletoe Margarita,” which includes pomegranate. McDevitt cuts open a pomegranate, artfully revealing the seeds, and places it on the bar for added décor.

If you’ve strewn fruits and herbs on the table but still want a showstopping centerpiece, you can also torture guests throughout the meal with a preview of dessert, by showcasing sweets in unique ways down the table’s center.

For this display, height is key, and the more height, the better. Try placing a cardboard box or two of different heights beneath the tablecloth, then placing your goodies on the stages.

“I love displaying hors d’oeuvres on cake stands of varying heights and sizes,” said Night Kitchen Bakery owner Amy Edelman.

Or try placing a cake on a centerpiece box, then surrounding it with cupcakes. You can also stack cookies on a platter in a Christmas tree shape. This year, Edelman really likes the idea of individual cupcakes as a centerpiece, stacked on a multi-level tier.

“Christmas-themed cupcakes are very popular in the age of COVID,” said Edelman, “and easier to clean up, no forks needed.”

holiday, dining