In a normal year, the holidays conjure visions of friends and family flying and driving in from near and far, hearty hugs and days spent gathering around a cozy table sharing comfort food. This year, however, will undoubtedly be a little different. With many people still wanting to be ultracautious to protect their pods, grandparents and themselves, gatherings are destined to be more intimate than ever before. But that doesn’t mean you have to forgo the holiday cheer altogether — in fact, small touches can make this season shine bright.
Whether you are entertaining a party of two or 10, making the dining table feel festive is a great place to start. “My go-to for adding instant festivity to a table is candles,” says interior designer and owner of Mill Valley’s FarmHouseUrban Home & Design Serena Armstrong. “It might seem like an obvious answer, but the key is to use a lot of them. A mishmash of votive candles covering the center of a table is not only beautiful to look at before guests sit down, but it also allows for the room lighting to be dimmed.”
Creating a gorgeous tablescape doesn’t take a professional or a huge budget. Armstrong says that much of what you need can be foraged. “The best tablescapes are made with found objects. Getting the entire family involved in the gathering of whatever strikes their fancy is part of the fun. Fallen leaves, branches, pine cones, feathers, stones, seashells and driftwood make great holiday decorations for the table, mantel, countertop or wherever,” she says. If you are in the Covid cautious camp and want to take the party outside for extra ventilation and distancing but are worried about unpredictable weather, Alison Hotchkiss, owner of Sausalito’s Alison Events, has some suggestions.
“You can rent umbrellas, heaters and tents. Instead of spending money on a clunky heater you use twice a year, rent one. Same with a tent — if you are worried about rain, throw a little pop-up tent up in the backyard. Or if you have the space, rent a Shelter Co. tent and put the kids in there for dinner and a movie,” says Hotchkiss. And if you are concerned about the spread of Covid, have everyone tested before they come over. “It doesn’t hurt to have hand sanitizer and extra masks either,” she adds.
Small gatherings can be socially tricky, especially if it is the immediate family, and there are a few insider tricks to make it feel bigger and more celebratory. Hotchkiss recommends “having a big, beautiful floral piece — Good Earth does an amazing job with floral arrangements — an abundant cheese platter and a great playlist with songs everyone will like. Also, new slippers are nice if yours is a no-shoe house like mine. Target has cheap ones, and it’s a fun way to make everyone feel cozy.”