“Millennials are killing the dinner party.” Have you heard? Along with a host of other businesses and activities. Apparently, millennials don’t throw extravagant parties like their predecessors. But, that isn’t exactly the case. We do throw extravagant parties, we just throw them in a different way. We still like a good Thanksgiving centerpiece, of course… we just might get a little more creative than previous generations did.
The Thanksgiving Centerpiece
In the 1960s, when Baby Boomers were young and innocent, their parents threw spectacular cocktail parties. These were bashes crammed with martinis, cocktail dresses, and interesting appetizers. But as they grew up, our parent’s generation passed on the cocktail parties their parents loved. They threw dinner parties instead, and Thanksgiving was the pinnacle.
If you could host a successful Thanksgiving dinner, and still like your guests when it was over, you were considered to be a true domestic goddess. With all the hostility between the generations these days, that Thanksgiving pressure is a real and unifying opportunity to bridge gaps with feasting and merriment.
If you’re hosting a vegan Thanksgiving in Portland, and your mom is hosting a traditional, turkey and pie Thanksgiving back in Ohio, you’re both feeling immense pressure. After all, people will expect delicious food, something to talk about (that doesn’t result in tears and recriminations), and of course, a stunning table.
The Key to a Beautiful Table
Unfortunately, I can’t help you with the food or the conversation. This year, my 8 year old is making cranberry sauce for our Thanksgiving dinner with friends in New England. We’ll talk about politics, religion, and vaccines while drinking themed cocktails.
But, I can help you plan your tablescape! That way, when the wine runs short and Aunt Barbara asks for the 16th time why you haven’t bought a “real” house yet, you’ll at least have something pretty to look at.
Beautiful tablescapes are usually made, not bought. They’re a combination of whimsy and elegance, and of course, they revolve around the centerpiece. If you have a fantastic flea market nearby, you may be able to find the foundation of a stunning Thanksgiving centerpiece there.
But, I can guarantee Target won’t have the sort of décor you’re looking for. Unless you’re trying to put together a tablescape that matches your cousin Christine’s, that is. Or your brother in law’s. In which case, run to Target now, before the centerpieces sell out!
Thanksgiving Tablescapes for the Pinterest Generation
Let’s face it, millennials: we have a lot of pressure on us. Our holiday hosting has been inspired by Pinterest for the past 8 years. There’s nothing more intimidating that a thousand Pinterest-perfect tablescapes crowding at the edge of your subconscious as you fumble through your own, imperfect holiday décor.
So, my friends, let me introduce you to the phase that will both heal and inspire this Thanksgiving: wabi-sabi. Like the oh-so-attractive hygge, wabi-sabi is a concept word from another culture that can help you rethink your limitations. It’s a Japanese aesthetic focused on accepting (and embracing) transience and imperfection.
Yes, imperfection! Like my tablescapes, and maybe yours too. Wabi Sabi cultivates the beauty of imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete things. Really, isn’t that the key to a happy Thanksgiving overall?
So, now that you’re chanting “imperfect, impermanent, incomplete” in your mind, let’s get decorating! Gather natural objects like stones, dried flowers, winterberries, or potted plants. Collect candles of all shapes and sizes. Look at what you have lying around the house and work with your favorite pieces to make a tablescape that really embraces your unique aesthetic.
1. The Living Table
An absolutely stunning choice, especially for vegetarian and vegan holiday tables. Create a living, growing Thanksgiving centerpiece by clustering small potted plants (like succulents) in amongst candles. Use enamel tins and birch rounds to create varying heights for your plants and candles. This kind of table truly embraces the natural transience of living things, and encourages gratitude for creation.
2. Memento Mori
Some cultures consider November to be the month of the dead, beginning with El Dia de los Muertos. If you’re feeling gothy, or just want to make Aunt Cathy uncomfortable, create a memento mori (“remember your death”) centerpiece complete with last month’s Halloween skulls, black candles, and potted mums.
3. Pumpkin Party
Maybe you’d rather plan a less challenging tablescape this holiday? Pumpkins are the easiest and friendliest way to set up a beautiful Thanksgiving centerpiece. They look amazing piled together in the center, and their thick skin can handle a bit of dripping candle wax. Best of all, they offend no one. You can even send mini-pumpkins home with your guests.
4. Meal with a Message
This one can be challenging, or comfortably banal, whichever you think your guests can handle. Grab a long roll of kraft paper to use as a table runner—any color works!—and write a Thanksgiving message. Use you’re prettiest handwriting to declare “Meat is Murder” or “Thankful”. Or ask a question and leave calligraphy pens beside the spoons at each place setting. Try “Impeachable?” and see where the conversation goes.
5. Mason Jar Magic
I have a huge, 2-gallon mason jar that my mother-in-law gave to me years ago. In the late fall, I love to use it as an oversized vase and fill it with winterberries and dried eucalyptus. For Thanksgiving, I’ll use it as a centerpiece, with mini mason jars filled with the same arrangement at each place setting. It’s quaint, cute, and homey.
6. Family Photo Album
If you want to be the favorite child for a while, this tablescape is guaranteed to make the older generation dab their eyes. Place a few metal photo stands in the center of the table and display heartwarming family photos. Then, use an adorable childhood photo as a name card at each place setting.
7. The Art Table
Cover your table in sturdy brown paper and let your guests decorate it. This is a great plan for simple, less gravy-and mashed-potato-focused Thanksgivings. Fill the center of the table with artistic options: colored pencils, pastels, sumi ink, and watercolors. Set a water-goblet of paint water and brushes beside the wine glasses. Then count how many times someone accidentally sips from the wrong cup.
8. Bowling for Thanks
Another sentimental favorite. Provide guests with pieces of paper to write down the things they’re thankful for. Then, pop all those little notes of thanks into a fishbowl at the center of the table. Between dinner and dessert, everyone gets to pick one or two to read aloud and guess who wrote it.
Just make sure to warn your guests in advance about the reading aloud part beforehand. Trust me, you don’t want to read about Uncle Phil’s gratitude for keeping his affair secret through another year.
9. Always Winter, Never Christmas
If you’re living in the great, frozen north, Thanksgiving can be a snowy holiday. We’ve had over a foot of snow on Thanksgiving before. So, if you’re not feeling the fall vibe, go for a winter one instead. Pile pine boughs in the center of the table. Set out the holly, and wrap beeswax candles in birch bark for a Narnia feel. There’s no point in pretending the long winter nights aren’t here already.
10. Hipster Heaven
If you’re hosting a hipster Friendsgiving instead of having family over this holiday, go all out. Put your typewriter in the center, or better yet, off the side with a chair in front of it. Let your guests know they can type out their best story from the past year, while you, cocktail in hand, compare ugly sweaters with your friends while the vegan Field Roast cooks for dinner. You don’t need to prove anything today, you’re among friends.
11. Tea Time
Sometimes, the Thanksgiving meal can just rush by. Everyone devours their food, or proudly declares “I don’t eat rabbit food! Where’s the Turkey?” Somehow all the arguments never seem to get in the way of eating. Before you’re ready, they’re asking for pie. But you were hoping to sneak off into the bedroom for a glass of wine first.
Use your centerpiece to display tea pots and cups. Have water boiling during dinner and press the pause button on eating for a while. Between dinner and dessert, your centerpiece comes to prominence. Every gets a cup of tea, and you can escape for something a little more refreshing.
12. Apples and Oranges
In the full wabi-sabi spirit, a basket of simple, beautiful, apples and oranges can be a stunning centerpiece. Edible centerpieces are fun for everyone. Picky eaters? They can fill up on fruit. Short on funds? Apples and oranges are inexpensive and long lasting. Tired of trying? They’re easy, low pressure, and when the guests are gone you can serve yourself an after-dinner cocktail. Sliced apple, bourbon, cider, and a slice of bacon. Congratulations, you hosted Thanksgiving, and you survived!
A Wabi Sabi Thanksgiving
Whatever you decide to do this Thanksgiving, enjoy it! Embrace the Wabi Sabi aesthetic and make it your own. Remember imperfection, impermanence, and incompleteness are beautiful! You don’t have to be pinterest perfect, you just have to be you.
The holidays can be stressful enough, so make sure you enjoy your tablescape. It can be fun, engaging, and memorable without being expensive or exhausting. It’s time to make Thanksgiving more than just a cliché of family feuds. But, if you can’t keep your family from fighting, you can at least enjoy the view.
So sit back, relax, and embrace imperfection.