By Danielle Crittenden Frum
In the rush to prepare the New Year’s feast, it’s easy to revert to a default High Holiday setting when it comes to your table. Put out the special plates you’re afraid to use the rest of the year (and even put in the dishwasher). Ditto the candlesticks, kiddush cup, and challah cover (the one that resembles your grandmother’s embroidered eiderdown). Get the brisket going in the morning before services if you didn’t make it the day before. By the time you sit down, you may feel that while you’re “celebrating” the holiday, you’re not experiencing its joyful spirit of renewal.
I like rituals (and nice china) as much as the next person, but they cease to be fulfilling when they become rote and familiar. Our observance of the holiday may rely upon following certain traditions — yet daring to change up your habitual style can make your holiday feel truly, festively new.
Here are three easy tips that will have transformative effects — and leave you feeling more relaxed:
Pay attention to small, even seemingly superficial details, such as lighting.
I once realized that Jews, Italians, and the French have the same thing in common when it comes to eating: They love their plates brightly lit. Perhaps because these cultures enjoy food so much they like to see what they are eating. Whatever the reason, there are fewer atmosphere killers than interrogation lights switched on overhead. Use dimmers and place votive candles everywhere, in addition to candle holders on the table. (And don’t hesitate to fill your table with more votives too!)
Strew flowers everywhere.
On coffee tables, sideboards, mantels, and in the powder room. Don’t just stick an arrangement in the center of the table and leave it at that. Scattering arrangements around the dining room and into other gathering spaces immediately brings a celebratory mood to the whole house. You don’t have to spend hundreds of dollars on arrangements. What I usually do is go to my plant center (or supermarket flower stand) and buy large bunches of three or four different types of flowers, plus some greenery, that I then distribute among all kinds of vases, big and small. Don’t get too lurid. Keep the tones seasonal without too many color combos or competing species (if you’re uncertain, go monotone). Don’t get hung up on trying to create perfect florist-style arrangements, either. There’s something more whimsical and friendly about slightly disheveled-looking arrangements. And you can do this a day or even two days in advance, so long as the flowers stay fresh. For creating table centerpieces, I have a step-by-step guide here.
Do a buffet.
I know. Blindingly obvious right? And yet we will still often torture ourselves year after year by trying to bring big serving platters back and forth from the kitchen while yelling at our children to clear. My new rule: If there’s more than six of us, we all serve ourselves. The key is to make sure that every dish you offer is edible with a fork, and fork only. Once a knife gets involved, you can’t reasonably expect people to eat on their laps. But that doesn’t have to be as limiting as it sounds. In this coming week, we’ll unveil our Break Fast holiday buffet menu that will please everyone — and spare a lot of work so you can truly enjoy the holiday.