DIY: A Beautiful Holiday Table

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How to create a beautiful holiday table on a budget

I read recently that as Americans age, they are downsizing and finding it almost impossible to offload the possessions accumulated over the span of decades. Their children are not interested in formal dinnerware, table linens or serving pieces. Silver candelabras or platters are sold by the pound as antique stores close their doors due to lack of interest. The fate of many once-cherished belongings is often relegated to the local consignment store or—worse yet—the junk collector.

When it comes to entertaining, this isn’t our grandparents’, or even or parents’, party. The busy-ness of life has made the formal sit-down dinner as rare as a Kardashian at a bean supper.

That doesn’t mean we don’t want to get together with friends and loved ones to celebrate, especially during the holiday season. We just need a better way. And by better I think we can all agree we mean faster, easier and less expensive.

I’m a firm believer that the company is always more important than the surroundings. It doesn’t matter if you serve your Thanksgiving turkey on (recyclable, compostable) paper plates or the finest china. Good food and good friends are what make a party memorable.

There are ways to have a holiday gathering that is fun, not fussy, elegant, yet easy and simple, but sophisticated. Here my Top 10 party hacks to help minimize stress and maximize time, so you can fully engage with your guests and enjoy the celebration.

• If you’ve invited a crowd, most guests will ask, “what can I bring?” Let your BFF make a pie for dessert. Ask your mother-in-law to bring her signature sweet potato casserole. Tell your brother he’s in charge of wine. If you can outsource some of the preparation, you’ll feel less pressure and your guests will love being part of the party planning.

Photo by Candace Karu

• Napkin rings add a touch of elegance to any table setting, but making your own is simple and can add a festive, fragrant touch. Tie a bit of burlap ribbon around your napkin and flatware and secure them with a sprig of rosemary.

Photo by Candace Karu

• You don’t need to stock a full bar when you entertain. Soft drinks, wine, beer and fizzy water are sufficient. If you want to go all out, create a signature cocktail for the occasion. I made Kettle Cove Sangria with Maine Mead Works lavender mead. I added blueberries, raspberries and apples from my garden to this lovely lavender libation. The drink is light and delicious and can be made with grape juice or ginger ale in lieu of mead for a marvelous mocktail. Serve your drinks in mason jars, an inexpensive alternative to crystal glasses

Photo by Candace Karu

• Matchy matchy is a thing of the past. Don’t be afraid to mix up plates, flatware, even chairs. I have a “set” of 24 dinner plates, each one different and sourced at thrift stores, yard sales or Home Goods for less than $2 each. They make the table look fresh and vibrant. If one is broken during clean up…c’est la vie!

Photo by Candace Karu

• Tablescapes and centerpieces can be fun, inexpensive and sometimes even free when the season is right. Gourds and pumpkins scattered on your holiday table add color. The larger varieties can be turned into pies and roasted veggies after the party is over. A fall garden is full of beautiful plants and flowers to make a striking centerpiece. Mine has hydrangea, sedum, kale and beet greens. This time of year they have matured into moody, beautiful fall colors. Use unexpected containers, like this vintage watering can, and add vertical dimension by placing your flowers on a cake stand.

Photo by Candace Karu

• A table card that your guests can take home with them is another special and inexpensive touch to your table. Succulents are hardy, cheap and easy to plant in an affordable container like this tiny galvanized bucket. It only cost about 50 cents!

Photo by Candace Karu

• Turn everyday items into table decorations. I covered a cat food tin with burlap ribbon and added a burlap bow (how I love my glue gun) to create a candleholder with an autumnal flair. The base is an upside down water goblet.

Candace Karu makes her living writing about food, fitness and travel. She lives near the ocean in an old farmhouse with two ill-behaved dogs and two hard-working barn cats. Follow her on Instagram: @candacekaru or at www.candacekaru.com.

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