The art of hosting is passed down from generation to generation. The knowledge, tips, recipes and tableware that are shared take on a life of their own as the traditions change hands. These traditions and heirlooms that accompany them impact holiday tables for decades to come. The Thanksgiving memories from childhood spent drinking sparkling apple cider and eating fresh dinner rolls linger in our minds as we begin hosting gatherings of our own.
Since childhood, I have been surrounded by incredible hosts and hostesses - mothers, grandmothers, aunts, uncles and everyone in between. I ate at beautifully and thoughtfully set tables for holidays growing up, only partially recognizing the attention to detail and guest experience each host considered in their own way.
Whenever prepping for an event, dinner or hosting opportunity, my mother, who now runs a successful event and floral design business, Windsor & Willow out of East Tennessee, always considers these six key things: the purpose of the gathering, your guests, the season, what you have, what you’re serving and the vibe. I have watched her run through this list of questions as the holiday or event drew closer. She asks herself what the purpose of the gathering is for this group of guests at this specific time of year. She lays out the appropriate table setting, adds fresh greenery and pairs each dish with the correct serving vessel the night before. Finally, and most importantly, she considers the energy, formality and
length of the event. She truly asks how she wants her guests to feel. This thought process stuck with me, keeps me from forgetting things and keeps the guests' experience at the center of the preparation. This year is my first year hosting in any real sense of the word. As I step into this new season of life, I am beginning to see behind the curtain of hosting and appreciate the worthwhile effort.
The trappings and crucial elements required to host any number of guests can sometimes seem overwhelming. When selecting items for a wedding registry, there are certain boxes to check to start building this collection. These days, many brides are wary of including a large set of silver, crystal glassware and other finer things. After living with roommates for years, sharing the same set of dishes from Target, or observing as hosting at home has become more and more casual, it’s hard to envision an occasion when a set of china would be truly necessary. Elizabeth Malmo, interior designer and owner of Collected on Broad, went so far as to register for the same china that her mother has. Brilliantly, she now has a treasure trove to dip into if she needs an additional place setting or serving platter for a hosting occasion. Other newlyweds are not registering for a complete set of china or glassware but rather a limited number in case their tastes change and they want to incorporate new patterns and
styles later in life.
I, however, listened to my mother, motherin-law and grandmother-in-law’s counsel and included the formal standards on my own registry. They had the vision and experience to see the utility and the memories those pieces would soon hold for me. After using the glassware, silver and china for the first few times this past year, seeing it all collected on one table, I began to understand why people continue to host and prepare for their guests so intently.
As hosting styles and traditions change, it is important to remember the moments, memories and rituals that stand the test of time. My mother passed down her mother’s Limoge china set to me. The simple yet detailed green and gold pattern evokes memories of my grandmother filling gravy boats and wiping the edges of any rogue drops before setting them on the table. The memories tied to each physical piece of a table setting connect generations and will continue to be a part of traditions for years to come. This connection between gatherings across time and place adds a depth to the occasion that would otherwise fade into the background.
One thing that will never change is the joy a beautiful table can bring guests. There are many ways to accomplish the goal of a welcoming holiday table. Floral arrangements and greenery elevate a table immediately. A long, flowing centerpiece that allows guests to chat easily across the table adds life and vibrancy. If you don’t want to make a large arrangement and would rather keep table space open for serving dishes, you can include greenery or blooms as a part of the place setting. Not only does this add interest to your table, but it also makes guests feel like the host personally considered each of them.
Including a name card with a little “Thank you!” is another simple way to elevate each guest’s
Whether your family enjoys decades-old traditions or starts new ones, hosting and gathering is a gift. Enjoying the company of family and friends, surrounded by fresh flowers, in front of a thoughtful place setting is a cherished experience that should always stand the test of time. The knowledge and traditions our mothers, grandmothers and their predecessors have taught us, through words, but more so by example, are things I am increasingly thankful for every year.
Flowers provided by Garden District. Candles, votives and select glassware pieces compliments of Collected by Elizabeth Malmo.