This Thanksgiving, many of us will be having smaller gatherings than usual. I believe that makes it all the more important to ensure your table decorations look extra-special. It will help make your Thanksgiving truly memorable for your family, lift everyone’s spirits, and hopefully remind us to be thankful for what we have, even in trying times.

Creating a festively decorated table sets the mood for your holiday meal. I know what you are thinking: Who has the time? There is just too much to do. Trust me, I have felt that way too. My mother was great at setting the table and was somehow able to get it done the morning of the holiday. That approach doesn’t work for me, as I don’t like to spread myself too thin on top of all the cooking and baking that needs to be done. Then one year it dawned on me, why not set just the table one or two days in advance? It gave me a greater sense of control and helped minimize my stress. The holidays should be about enjoyment, and careful planning helps to make sure I have time to sit back and appreciate the fruits of my labor along with my family

table place settings

Keys to decorating a beautiful Thanksgiving table

Here are some tips and guidelines that I follow to help create a gorgeous Thanksgiving layout with a minimum of chaos and anxiety.

Fresh Flower Arrangement

#1 Pick a theme and give yourself plenty of time to order flowers.

I like to determine my theme and start ordering my flowers—the earlier, the better. I often layer different elements (more on that below) when setting the table and this plays into my flower choice.

Thanksgiving Centerpiece

#2 Choose your table centerpiece.

For an organic look, choose a natural-looking vase in either wood or pottery. In choosing flowers, think about sightlines and avoid blocking the view across the table. Another option is to use several smaller vases spread along the table. One of my favorite parts of arranging a Thanksgiving table is choosing and placing the floral accents. In fact, I often let the choice of flowers dictate the color palette of the table. As fall is the harvest season, I like to bring nature to the table, and make organic elements a through-line of the design. Have fun with your tablescape and add fall leaves, branches, and even some vines from the garden, as well as small pumpkins and gourds. You can also add some fruit or dried wheat to the table. Pears, apples, grapes, figs, and finocchio (fennel) are always a part of our table, as much for aesthetic reasons as for dietary ones. Fennel is regarded as a wonderful palette cleanser in our house. It is crunchy, moist, and refreshing, with a hint of sweetness and licorice.

Place setting

#3 The right palette for the palate.

In the same vein, I like to think “earthy” when selecting my linens. Reds, greens, and browns make for a nice Thanksgiving color palette. Once you have picked out your tablecloth, select a table runner that coordinates nicely and layer it on top. Make sure that your table runner is long enough to drop over the edges of the table. Next, select your napkins. Pick out different colored/patterned napkins that complement each other. If I am arranging eight place settings, I will use anywhere from two to four different napkin patterns. It will make your table more interesting and charming.

Decorative Plate for Dinner Setting

#4 Dish it out!

Pick out your dishes. Dishes that have nature patterns such as turkeys or pheasants on them work really well (make sure to run them through the dishwasher if they haven’t been used in awhile). This is the perfect time to break out those charger plates. They really add to the place setting.

#5 Flattering Flatware

As for flatware, I find the more rustic, the better it works for this holiday. Don’t be afraid to mix and match; old inherited pieces can be included for sentimental reasons. Mixing the old and the new creates a nice sense of variety and history.

Place Setting with Sprig  Ring Napkin Holder

#6 If you like it, put a ring on it.

Napkin rings are a nice touch, and also provide me with another opportunity to incorporate nature into the decoration: I make the rings by hand out of twigs and sprigs of seasonal greenery. I find the berries on the sprigs add a nice color accent.

Beautiful Colorful Glassware

#7 Raise your glasses!

For Thanksgiving I prefer red, green, or turquoise colored glassware, as they really pop against the earth tones of the rest of the setting. Try experimenting with contrasting colors.

Silverware Handles, Unique Designs

#8 Bowl Them Over

Pick out the serving dishes, bowls, and utensils you intend to use for the food. I actually go ahead and label all the receptacles the night before; I find it really useful when the food is ready to serve, as any helping hands in the kitchen can easily see what goes where.

Dessert Table

#9 Just Desserts

In our house, a separate dessert table is a must. We need room for all of the different pie varieties. When setting, I like to use a mixture of heights to create dimension; that is to say, I place some pies on flat platters and others on cake stands. I also like to add a bowl of apples and place a few randomly on the table. Pomegranates and/or satsuma oranges (with the leaves left on) work well too, as does a scattering of small flower vases.

#10 A Little Light Work

It’s not a holiday without candles. Mood lighting is everything. I don’t think you could go wrong with two candlestick holders with candles in warm colors; alternatively, scatter about a few small votives. A combination of both works, too.

August 31, 2022 — Mary DiSomma