Robin Yang, Owner and Creative Director of Wonderland Parties and Events, Shares Her Tips for Setting a Thoughtful Thanksgiving Table
1. Determine your theme: This is where both personality and availability come into play. Focus on the aspects of Thanksgiving ambiance that appeal to you: Are you drawn to more formal place settings? Do you prefer a more whimsical feel? What are your family dynamics? What are your favorite parts of this season? Family-focused? Food? Sports? Autumn? Color scheme? Choose what is important to you, and highlight it at the table.
2. Decorate your space: What decor do you already have around your home that you could incorporate? If you don’t have a lot of fall decorations, don’t hesitate to accentuate with the beauty of nature. Collect pinecones, fall leaves or even branches from pruned trees. Looking to add to your fall collection? Start with thrift stores, and work your way up. TJ Maxx and Homegoods are wonderful little-known finds that have many similar pieces available at the larger more expensive craft stores. If you choose a more formal setting, a simple garland down the middle of the table can do wonders. For more of a whimsical flair, look to use household items in unconventional ways. Sheer curtains make a great substitute for a table runner, and serving items like cake stands can be used to hold any number of decorations instead of food.
3. Incorporate gratitude: My inspiration for incorporating gratitude into these tables was memories of my childhood. When I was young, we didn’t have extra for fancy table settings, but my mother was wonderful about inspiring us to be creative and grateful for what we did have. She has an eye for design, worked to make her own beautiful flower arrangements and carefully budgeted for versatile fall decor. She also incorporated a tradition of gratitude for God’s tender mercies and for each other in a number of ways. As I grew up in a family of six kids, she was called on to be the peacemaker nearly every day, and one night she gathered the children and explained she wanted us to each draw a sibling’s name. We were to be each other’s secret “pixie” for the week, doing kind acts of service in the hope of endearing us to each other a little more. It worked, and my siblings and I have grown to become a close-knit group that enjoys helping one another and sharing in each other’s laughter and tears. However, whether you have a close family or not, it is never too late to start new traditions of gratitude.
This same idea can be modified and incorporated into a Thanksgiving table. As family and friends arrive, put each guest’s name in a dish. Names are drawn, and blank scrolls are passed out. These can be a simple piece of paper rolled and tied with a string. Then guests write a note of gratitude for what they are thankful for about that person, and completed scrolls are placed on the table at that person’s place setting. Kids can draw a picture or have adults help them write a simple note. If writing on the spot is intimidating, try doing a family rotation so everyone knows whom they are writing about in advance. Handwritten notes have nearly become a thing of the past, and your loved ones will treasure whatever kindhearted things you choose to share.
As my siblings grew older and had families of their own, labeling cups became a necessary tradition for many family gatherings. Over the years, simple names on plastic cups grew to incorporate drawings and doodles and occasional random titles from whoever was assigned to the cup brigade. Likewise, handwritten place cards add a personal touch to Thanksgiving dinner. Our handwriting is as distinct as we are, and even if we don’t like our own writing, these little cards become meaningful as the reader recognizes it was you who put in that little touch of love. Place cards can be as simple or as intricate as you wish, but a simple thought is to add an adjective you appreciate about that person or the quality that seemed to be exhibited most that year. Why not surprise them with a quality you admire? The table setting or decorations may be forgotten in a few days’ time, but people will remember how you make them feel. A simple compliment may become more meaningful than you realize.
As my brothers and sisters had more children of their own, Thanksgiving at Grandma’s house started to encompass this quote best: “My family is the perfect mix of chaos and love.” Trying to rein in the excited grandchildren and still incorporate the spirit of gratitude, my wise mother one year made nut cups with a little candy corn mixed in for each of us. Then she explained we couldn’t eat it until each of us had gone around the room and shared what we were grateful for that year. This became another beloved tradition in our family. One year she ran out of time to make nut cups, and one of the sibs grabbed a bag of candy corn and passed around one single piece to each of us. Sharing gratitude for life opened opportunities to learn of often unknown trials we all faced. The things that we learned about each other and what hardships had been overcome that year drew us all closer together. This tradition has become my favorite over the years as each Thanksgiving gives us this opportunity to reconnect and express gratitude for each other and the tender mercies afforded to each of us.
Table 1: Outdoor Table
Theme: Thankful, a Celebration
Decor: A whimsical rustic backdrop of wildflowers; weathered table and benches (Crate & Barrel); sheer curtains provided the table runner (TJ Maxx); cake stands and candleholders held glass pumpkins (TJ Maxx); place settings consisted of melamine dishes and fall leaf charger (Pier 1).
Gratitude elements: Nut cups and gratitude scrolls
Table 2: Inside Table
Theme: Gratitude, a Formal Declaration
eécor: Buffet table (Crate & Barrel) and Dining Table (Pier1); Fall garland with metallic accents (Hobby Lobby); gold-rimmed glass place setting (TJ Maxx) with gratitude message plates (Pier 1); Buffet table decor (Various)
Gratitude Element: Place cards (Michaels)