I love Thanksgiving. Hands down, it’s my favorite Holiday. I love the spirit, I love the season, I love having my unruly family all together and I love the overabundance of food.
I am not a subscriber to the low-fat, low-carb versions of Thanksgiving dinner; I instead feel morally obligated to overindulge in every delectable treat and to enjoy it to the last crumb of my aunt’s pecan pie.
This year, however, can we really brag about our abundant harvest? Let’s face it, we’ve got a global economic crisis, an unpopular war and a gazillion dollar national deficit. So, in the spirit of belt-tightening, instead of spending a goodly sum on a sumptuous floral arrangement for my Thanksgiving table, I decided to see what I could find at no-cost (or at least low-cost) and still make a lavish display for Thanksgiving (like maybe something the pilgrims might have had on hand?)
First: Rules of Arrangement
Arrangements need four elements: (1) a base or background such as a runner, a tray or a field of greens; (2) a vessel or vessels to hold the "stuff"; (3) the content of the arrangement which is limited only by the imagination but typically is flowers, fruit, vegetation; and (4) candles or some kind of light to show it off.
Furthermore, the two keys for a successful Thanksgiving centerpiece are Color and Abundance. Almost anything with harvest colors will work – flowers, fabric, ribbons, vegetables, fruits, ceramics, glass, candles; anything that has the warm oranges, golds, reds, browns, terracottas, sage greens, and beiges will evoke that Thanksgiving warmth. And then, there has to be plenty of it; more is better, this is no time for minimalism. We want to have the sense that our blessings are manifold and that we have a surfeit of food and good will to last through the coming winter.
Raid the Closet for Baskets
If your taste runs to the rustic and traditional, baskets are a good place to start; baskets conjure up Harvest images of bountiful fruit and vegetables. My own substantial collection of baskets has accumulated by itself over the years; some have arrived with gifts of food or flowers, some are leftover from various events, and some I’ve actually purchased. I have cornucopia shapes (very appropriate), mini bushels, round, square, low, high, you name it. You can use more than one basket but it’s best to stick to one shape; repetition increases that sense of bounty and gives unity to an arrangement. Fill the baskets with a variety of fruit and vegetables, then put them on a bed of greenery or a table runner. Use low baskets, always include some bunches of grapes in the mix and strategically place a few pieces of loose fruit around for that "still life" effect, flank the arrangement with some candles and there you have it – a traditional centerpiece with no investment except fruit and vegetables to be consumed later.
The Candle Solution
This is always a fun one. Gather all the candles you have in the house: tapers, pillars, votives and anything else. Find a big tray (silver is great if you have one – it creates sparkling reflections of the candlelight) and make a pleasing arrangement. You should end up with a mélange of varying heights and thicknesses. You can also include some greens or bittersweet for a base but be careful it doesn’t catch fire. One caution, however – use only unscented candles. No one wants to eat Thanksgiving dinner accompanied by the cloying scent of perfumed candles.
If you are lucky enough to have access to some wild woods, you can forage for branches. I see lots of bittersweet on my drive home and even naked branches with interesting twists and turns that will make a handsome look when set into vase. Or you can lay be-ribboned bunches of branches on the table, and intersperse the bunches with votive candles or sparkly Christmas tree lights for a more contemporary look.
The Buffet Table
The great advantage of a buffet-style meal is that you have no limitations on height for your centerpiece. I have a round basket with a high arching handle; I have filled it with pots of inexpensive flowers from my local wholesale nursery or even re-purposed my stock of houseplants. (Christmas cactus blooms at Thanksgiving.) If I put a bow on the handle, a table square beneath it, get out the biggest candelabra I have, then, along with all the food on display, it looks like the groaning board of an old master still life. And don’t forget, this is the big moment for your china cabinet! Use the most beautiful serving dishes and utensils that you have. (My father once put a saucepan full of creamed onions on my buffet table and was roundly denounced for it.) This is a formal celebration of thankfulness for all the beauty and bounty around us, so make the most of it and enjoy!
Barbara Sternau is an Interior Designer with offices at 37 Main St., Tarrytown, NY