It is with cautious optimism that I am anticipating the 2021 holiday season and am excited to see some family members for the first time since before the pandemic. In an effort to keep it safe, I am considering increased ventilation, spaced seating and plenty of outdoor activities, but I am mostly excited to resurrect my favorite time to gather and celebrate.

If you are a host this year, planning and prepping ahead of time will allow you to relax and enjoy your company when they arrive. Begin early and do a little each day, so there will not be a mad rush the day of the feast.

For example, when grocery shopping, grab some small pumpkins, gourds, taper and votive candles as easy, inexpensive decoration for the dining table and to brighten up small spaces throughout your home.

Pull out any silver items you may have tucked away and polish them. I am always amazed what a difference a few minutes of shining does with these pieces and wonder why I don’t maintain and use them more often. Find your platters, bowls, gravy boats and serving pieces, and set them aside. Bring out all your plates and decide which will be used for your Thanksgiving meal. Do you have enough silverware and glasses? The pieces may not match, but they will work together if you have a common color pulling the place settings together.

Gather your linens, and choose a tablecloth or placemats to fit the table. If you have enough cloth napkins in fall colors, they can also be mixed and matched. Place these things aside so they will be ready when it’s time to set the table.

Do you have enough seating for everyone? We all remember sitting at the “kids’ table,” and it is a perfectly viable option. At our home, a large piece of plywood serves as an additional tabletop, and the barstools at the counter may be utilized this year, as well.

The sooner you can set the tables, the better. Cover the table with your best tablecloth and arrange all available chairs around it. Set each seat with a plate, napkin, and silverware. Drinking glasses may be optional, as people can bring their own drinks to the table, if you prefer.

Line the middle of your table with aforementioned candles, pumpkins, gourds and autumn leaves or branches. You may also add color and a personal touch with place cards, made from small leaves, stationary or a folded slip of paper. Consider seating the verbally expressive next to quiet people, left-handed folks on the end, and seniors at chairs with easy access.

Now that the table is set, let’s explore a few possibilities for finishing touches. This year I intend to place colorful wrapped leaf shaped chocolates at each setting. In years past, I have used small Christmas ornaments for each person, with the guests’ name written in paint pen, or small wrapped gifts. These accents add color, sparkle and an element of festivity and surprise to the gathering.

If your family is as outgoing as mine, ask that each person state one thing they are thankful for during the meal. This is my favorite thing to do, and it has resulted in many insightful and touching moments around our table.

An hour or so before the meal, walk around the house, light the candles and do any last-minute touch ups. If you are hosting a large group, ask guests for help when you need it. Children are especially happy to contribute during a holiday get-together, and might enjoy making the place cards, gathering pretty leaves, serving appetizers, or setting the table.

Just do what you’re comfortable doing. Remember, people are there to enjoy your company along with the holiday fare, and a gracious and relaxed host is the most important ingredient of all.

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