In the hustle and bustle of shopping and cooking for the holidays, decorating the table often falls to the eleventh hour, with a mad dash to get placemats down and silverware laid before the guests arrive. But taking time to create a centerpiece is actually an important and rewarding part of entertaining, because it helps set the mood. As food historian William Woys Weaver says, "The eye eats first."
The decor in the centerpiece tips people off about what to expect, explains FoodFit Executive Chef Bonnie Moore. For instance, if dinner is going to be formal, your guests should see a formal table and get the cue. Chef Bonnie usually goes for a more casual, organic look herself-she likes to scatter seasonal fruit (that you can see over easily) along the length of her table.
"I like to cook peasant food and make it elegant," she says. "My centerpieces reflect this. They're a little haphazard and not too fussy."
The decorations don't have to be in the center either. Famous L.A. chef and restaurateur Susan Feniger says she rarely does centerpieces because there is always too much food on the table. But if there is an end free, she likes to put out candles of different types and heights. "I think it sets a nice atmosphere," says the chef.
The rule of thumb is to decorate your table a couple of days in advance so you can enjoy the activity and enjoy your handiwork. Here are some easy, fun and festive centerpiece ideas to try:
- Seasonal fruits like pears, apples and clementines displayed in a favorite bowl or tray make a colorful (edible!) centerpiece. You can also loosely spread the fruit along the table, like Chef Bonnie does.
- The bright contrast of red pomegranates and yellow lemons together in a bowl can be breathtaking, especially by candlelight.
- Holiday favorites like poinsettias, sprigs of holly, rope garlands or red and green candles make lovely holiday centerpieces, solo or together, strewn on the table or assembled in a bowl.
- Whole nuts and a handsome nutcracker are nice additions to the holiday table.
- Centerpieces made with fragrant herbs such as rosemary, lavender, sage or thyme are another attractive option.
- Table decorations created by your little ones are meaningful and festive. Have the kids gather pinecones, which can be painted gold or silver for extra sparkle, draw pictures or even pick favorite small toys to adorn the table.