Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. Why? Because it’s all about family and food. Even if your “family” is a diverse collection of friends with vastly different traditions, the food takes center stage.
How I serve that food, however, is what really interests me.
Growing up, we could easily have up to 30 people—family and guests—seated at several tables for Thanksgiving. The adults claimed the formal dining table, some kids claimed the kitchen table, and other kids gathered ‘round a collection of card tables and TV trays. We ate on real plates with real silverware and actual glassware. The Detroit Lions played softly on every TV. The house was filled with laughter.
Looking back, I don’t know how my grandmother, mother and aunts pulled it off every year. But they did. Spectacularly.
I find myself wanting desperately to recreate that setting every fall. It’s not always possible now—family is scattered, in-laws make plans, children go out of town—but even on a small scale, the Thanksgiving setting can be stunning.
I start with a tablecloth. It doesn’t have to be seasonal or orange or feature pumpkins…it just needs to be cloth. If it’s a party of four, we go for cloth placemats. Then I add multiple plates. Yes, plates, plural. A salad plate also doubles as a bread plate and looks great perched atop the dinner plate. Silverware, glassware and napkins complete the settings.
Then, I add serving bowls, platters and tea lights. If the bowls coordinate with the dishes, great. If not, still fine. Once they’re filled with comfort food, no one will notice their design. A spoonful of buttery mashed potatoes needs no artifice. After that, I like to go wild.
I don’t favor that Thanksgiving centerpiece staple: the cornucopia. My mother and grandmother had one filled with the obligatory plastic fruit, but I’ve yet to find one that skews trendy and artsy. So I’m more likely to go with brass and candlesticks and all manner of dried flowers, felt pumpkins and pinecones.
Overall, the table setting should look like harvest. Fall. Bounty. It should glow, like chilly November evenings. It should whisper, “Welcome. Sit. Indulge.” If your guests feel that whisper, they’ll linger. And if they linger, you’ll hear all manner of stories and ideas and dreams.
And then the pies will come out. And the groans will commence. And you’ll know: This bounty, this beautiful, thankful bounty was indulged.
A Michigan farm girl transplanted to the South offering hospitality hacks.