Around the House – A Table of Traditions

the author's Christmas tableThis season, every glossy magazine cover in the grocery store line seems to be showing off all the new and improved ways to make our holiday tables look better than ever.   Whether it’s glamorous metallic table linens, specialty seasonal dishware, or a show-stopping centerpiece, the focus is on what you need to run out and buy to make your festive gathering complete.   But as much as I love setting a pretty table, and as much as I love collecting new dinner party props – that’s what I call all the fun little tchotchkes you use to decorate your table – this is the one time of year I find myself resistant to any updates, “refreshes,” or change. This is the time of year I crave tradition. 

At right, the author’s Christmas table setting combines new traditions, like personalized Christmas ornaments as place cards, with cherished family heirlooms like her grandmother’s china.

There’s something about sitting down for the big holiday meal knowing the story behind each piece on the table, that every plate passed around represents a cherished memory or relative.  Whether it’s the slightly chipped turkey platter no one’s ever owned up to dropping, my grandmother’s crystal water goblets, or the glued-back-together gravy boat that’s probably slowly poisoning us all with super glue residue, these are the precious pieces I look forward to seeing grace our dinner table year after year.

Now that I have a child of my own, I have tried to find ways I can include both my husband’s and my family’s traditions in our holiday décor.   Our table is set with my husband’s grandmother’s monogrammed linens and my grandmother’s china and silver.  Since my active toddler prevents us from hanging any breakable ornaments on our tree, I’ve hung my great-grandparent’s blown glass balls from our chandelier, well out of Lulu’s reach.  They add a little extra glimmer to our meals, while reminding me of my childhood Christmases.  My mother-in-law passed down a bunch of felt ornaments my husband made when he was young, and he had so much fun hanging them on our tree while sharing his own memories with our little one.

You don’t need to have inherited heirloom china or Waterford crystal to include treasured traditions at your holiday table.   The ritual itself and the memories evoked are all that really matter here.  Every year, my family uses the glittery napkin rings my cousin Taylor made from paper towel rolls when she was three (she’s currently a Senior at the University of Georgia), and we have no qualms about using them with our real silver and best linens.  It’s tradition!  And it wouldn’t be Christmas dinner if we didn’t use the tricky salt and pepper shakers at my Dad’s place setting.  He’s the type that pours salt and pepper over everything on his plate before he takes a single bite, and these highly designed salt and pepper shakers are nearly impossible to get anything out of.  Year after year, we all chuckle when Dad frowns to find these waiting by his plate.  The joke never gets old; it’s tradition!

Though I’m loathe to shake things up too much this time of year, I have added just a few of my own holiday rites in the hopes that they’ll become future traditions my daughter carries forth.   My favorite is our family’s advent calendar.  Instead of tucking chocolates into each day’s little nook, I draw small illustrations of seasonal activities – simple things like making hot cocoa with marshmallows or reading “The Grinch Who Stole Christmas.”  Each day she picks a little card out of the calendar, and we make sure to do the activity it depicts.  It’s a simple way to teach my daughter to relish the small pleasures in life, and it ensures that I make time for a little fun every day during this busy, sometimes overwhelming season.   Lulu then hangs each day’s card on a little Christmas tree on our sideboard, and when the family gathers for Christmas dinner, she’ll be able to show and tell them about all of the exciting things she’s done this month.

However you celebrate your holidays this year – whether it’s with good friends, the whole extended family, or a single loved one – I hope you find a way to bring cherished memories and traditions to your celebration.   Happy New Year to you all!

[blockquote class=blue]Kitty Burruss is an interior designer, gift wrapper, sale shopper, and Christmas tree decorator extraordinaire.[/blockquote]

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About the Author: Kitty Burruss