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  • Writer's pictureJulie Sweany

Getting Out the Good Stuff

How we honor occasions and loved ones and even ancestors with the tradition of a special table.

The other day I was cleaning out my garage, getting out decorations and thinking I have far too much “stuff”. As I began to look at the boxes, I realized I have not one… not two… but three different sets of china dishes stored in my garage. I shook my head and questioned my judgement. Why in the world was I keeping three sets of china? But then I opened the boxes and began to look at the pieces. The memories began to flow – the first set brought memories of Sunday dinners with my in-laws; the second set reminded me of holiday dinners with my grandparents; and the third set held memories of the look on my mother’s face as she set our special holiday table - carefully looking at each plate, tea cup and gravy boat, reminiscing about how excited she was when she picked them out and received them as wedding gifts. It suddenly didn’t seem quite so crazy to be storing them.

While wedding china has become less of a “thing” for brides today, the process of decorating the holiday table in our homes is more popular than ever. But why? As Miss Martine says, just as getting dressed up shows respect for important occasions and fellow guests, taking the trouble to set a special table shows your guests that you think they are important and worth the extra effort. A beautiful table set with care and attention takes the entire experience out of the ordinary, marking it as a festive event and creating an atmosphere for a special and memorable occasion.

In our current environment (the days of Covid), it is more important than ever to try to make this year’s smaller holiday dinners reflect the idea that they are still special. The best way to do that is with the food you are serving and the table you set. The special efforts you make in setting your holiday table can turn a mundane, ordinary task into something that surprises your loved ones. You certainly don’t need three sets of china, but you can take what you do have and make it look amazing! If you have any pieces that bring back memories – now is the time to use them. If there are family recipes that you remember from your childhood, include them in the menu so that those special feelings and traditions can be passed along to your own children.

Get your children involved

When your children are old enough, begin to get them involved in the holiday table setting. Nowadays, it is commonly called the “tablescape” – a fancy term for decorating the table and making it look welcoming. There are so many centerpiece ideas – some elaborate and some simple. If you need ideas for a “tablescapes” there are hundreds of ideas on Pinterest . Creative napkin folding can be a fun activity! Search the internet for even more ideas – they are endless. Now granted, some of them require a little more creativity and supplies than I am willing to tackle – but many DIY sites simply take what you have, or give you ideas to get your children involved. The goal is not to spend a great deal of money – it is to make that table look and feel special to those enjoying the meal.

This is a perfect opportunity for your children to learn how to set a proper table and have fun doing it! Where do the knife, fork and spoon go? It is often a surprise during Supper Club when we realize the number of children who have no idea how to set the table, which silverware goes where and is used for what. Some members have even shared that they never sit at the table to eat their meals. While some family schedules make it a challenge to sit at the table all together, the holidays offer a time to slow down and focus on one another. Make your table an inviting space for your family to gather for their special holiday meal. Wear something festive to mark the occasion. Encourage good posture and proper use of silverware along with lively conversation. In doing so, you are providing your children with dining skills they can use throughout their lives. And by including children in the table and meal preparations, you are also allowing them to develop appreciation for all the effort that goes into making special occasions special. The most natural way for children to learn is by being included and seeing the steps along the way and helping where age appropriate. Then, instead of merely enjoying the fruits of other people’s labors, they feel that they played a meaningful role in a team effort that all can enjoy together.

Utilize memories of holidays past

Take advantage of the “captive audience” you have at your holiday dinner table by sharing stories about ancestors and family lore. If older relatives can’t join you this year, ask them to share their stories via email or Facetime (one of the few times it might be acceptable to bring your cell phone or device to the table for a short time!). Talk about the food, recipes, memories of holiday dinners past, and trips to see family and friends. This might become a treasured new holiday tradition to carry forward as a way to include loved ones we cannot physically hold but whom we hold dearly in our hearts.

As with all things this year, the holidays will be a mixture of old and new. We can honor family traditions and loved ones, just perhaps in new ways. While traditions among families may differ, I’m sure we all hold one thing in common - looking forward to the New Year! Though I am quite sure that stories surrounding 2020 will be remembered and retold for years to come!


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