We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then, is not a single act, but a habit. -Aristotle
As a child, one of my daily tasks was to set the dinner table, and because my mother had a great collection of dishes that had been passed down from other generations or purchased at yard sales, there were always many to choose from and an opportunity to be creative. Our dinner table was originally my great-grandmothers, and it had a span that fit all fourteen of us for the evening meal. In our “assigned” seats we passed the prepared dishes and had lively debates over the issues of the day. There wasn’t an option not to be at the table; it was required, and if you were missing, there had to be a good reason. Because coming to the table was essential, I liked to take extra care in setting the stage for a wonderful meal. This is something that sticks with me today as I set my own table built to resemble that long table of my earlier years.
In an age where efficiency has often replaced elegance and convenience has replaced the timeless, I invite you back to the table so you may explore what happens when we use the real dishes and utensils. So get out the china set, and let go of the attachment that it will break. Dishes were meant to be used and it creates the element of respect at the dinner table…a dropped dish is not so likely to be ignored so things may slow down a bit to be experienced. Simple foods on a beautiful plate never tasted so good! Take out the silverware at your next party and notice the mood of your guests shift when they realize you are treating them like royalty. Wine tastes much better in a glass and it is more fun to drink coffee in a cup with a saucer. Does it take a little extra time? Perhaps, but it is worth savoring the meal and having it served up with class…a feast for the eye.
One of the misconceptions of using real dishes is that it is costly. Actually, I find dishes of various prices and most of the time when people know I like them, they give them to me. This set pictured here was a special set I purchased for our wedding luncheon, an English Staffordshire design that was hand-painted. It was found at a local consignment shop and every time I take them out, I am reminded of that special day. Other sets I like to collect are more simple: a band of gold or silver, small florals, perhaps a pop of color. You can mix collections for a fun effect (and not having to have a fully matched set is actually more enjoyable for the tablescape). Depending on the design, they may need to be hand-washed, but in our crazy paced life, sudsy warm water can become a quiet meditation at the end of a day.
The various silverware and stemware we have collected at local shops are tales of a bygone era…when people took time for elegant cocktails and soirees. I adore drinking champagne out of these hollow-stemmed coupes–the bubbles circulating for a mini fireworks show in your glass. The bubbles are able to sparkle on your face unlike narrow stem flutes and you get the true sensation of what champagne was meant to be. Seldom do my silver sets match–they are random pieces that either were given to us by relatives or bits and pieces from over the years. Again this adds to the interest of the table. Using real linens is something we do most of the time…even if they don’t get ironed, it is still a more luxurious experience than a paper one. On top of all this, using things over and again allows us to reduce our environmental footprint…which is very important to us as we consider the generations that follow ours.
How you place your settings doesn’t need to follow any specific etiquette necessarily. Using a bit of creative flair always rules supreme at our table. Flowers from the field or the yard are essential as are real candles. (I cannot deal with those electronic versions on the dinner table and feel they are representative of the lost art of living a life of meaning.) Even little votive lights work as they often cast just the right magical glow. One tradition I like for special meals is to have a votive at each place setting. Instead of a formal blessing, we go around the table, lighting our candles and offering a wish, a gratitude or memory of someone we would love to have present at the table. Our dinner conversations have been transformed by this simple ritual and immediately all are lifted to a union that truly makes the meal something more than just physical nourishment…it becomes food for the soul.
I invite you to reclaim some of the beautiful traditions of the past and bring them to your table. Watch how the experience moves you beyond just consuming the daily bread.
photo credits: Tessa Marie Images