Some of the best childhood memories involve setting the table for the holidays. Parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles always seemed to know how to express themselves perfectly through their table settings, but as vegans, a question arises: how do we set a holiday table that best represents our families and our beliefs? Luckily, the art of creating a beautiful holiday atmosphere is easy and fun, as it’s not only about the table or the food—it’s about creating the story, which pieces to use, the music, creating conversation, and the entire sensory experience. When you’re having guests over, for whatever occasion, there is a lot to consider, so let’s get started, shall we?
1. Tell a story
The table should tell a story and should also be treated as any space in a home (ie, there should be a certain vibe or energy to the table just as in any living space). For those of you who aren’t great storytellers, we have good news: there are no rules! The story can be whimsical or serious, and the table can have small toys or silver-tipped pine cones on the dinner plates. For example, if you live in Miami, you could mix palm fronds and snowflakes as part of the décor. Whatever story you choose, remember that you are the one telling it to your guests, so come up with something you enjoy!
2. Take inventory
We tend to buy things, store them, forget them, and buy them again. Never is this wasteful cycle more apparent than during the holidays. So, before buying more dishes, look through your cabinets, take out everything, and place these items on the floor. Then, choose whatever matches the story you’re trying to tell. At this point, nothing has to match—just have fun and pick things that make you smile. For instance, place all candleholders in an area and mix and match a rustic wooden outdoor lantern with the silver candelabra your aunt gave you for your wedding. Once you have chosen the items found in your home, you can then create your “to buy” list.
3. Center yourself
Centerpieces are so much fun because they are the beginning of the story. So, take the candelabra and the rustic outdoor lantern, and add red and green candles (if it’s a Christmas table) and surround the candles with tree ornaments and a few small gift boxes. Whatever you choose, remember that the most interesting centerpieces are from a mix of items and not necessarily flowers. To accomplish a conversation-starting centerpiece, create heights, stagger the small gift boxes, and sprinkle Christmas candies throughout. Now you’ve added color, texture, and fun and have created a cheery table. Your guests should be able to see one other while having a conversation around the table, so the centerpiece—or any candles you’ll place—should not get in the way. If a candelabra is too high with candles, burn them prior so they are short. Let the wax drip onto the candelabra for a beautiful effect.
4. Don’t forget the kids
Having children at the adult table teaches them table manners and how to socialize. It’s also a great opportunity for them to learn where to place their napkins, how to handle fine China, and how to listen and communicate. If the children are very young, create a place setting for them if there is room, as being involved in the sensory experience of being at a holiday table can be great for them. To keep them busy, place busy things for them to do such as stickers, crayons, and blank paper. Kids love creating their own art, and they don’t need coloring books that inhibit their creativity with lines to restrict them. Just remember to make their place settings child-proof (ie, no glass or sharp cutlery), and you’ll have yourself an all-ages dinner table.
5. Say goodbye to plastic
If you don’t have enough dishes for your crew or need disposable dishes for young children, get paper goods and not plastic. Don’t fret: you can mix paper with the fine China and still have an elegant table.
6. Get your groove on
Sound is as important as visual expression, so enhance the theme of your table setting with music. For the cheery Christmas table we created above, play classic holiday tunes such as “Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer” and “Jingle Bells.” If a setting is an elegant, formal Christmas story, opt for symphonic Christmas music such as this medley by the London Symphony Orchestra.