We celebrated our first family Easter gathering at our new home this year, and the weather was glorious! I mean, low 80s, a breeze, and plenty of sunshine.
While it was wonderful to have everyone over to celebrate, I will admit that it was also a bit stressful and emotional, too. For my entire life, we’ve celebrated all the holidays at my parents’ house. My mom cooked and decorated, and made them all so special with the little details and love she put into each one of them. This was the first big family celebration that I’ve been in charge of since she passed away. And it was hard, not having her there. There is still a hole where she should be.
I always imagined that my sister and I would start holding the holidays at our homes as my parents got older, as a way to make things easier for them when big holiday meals were just more than they wanted to take on. But in my imagination, both of my parents were still there, showing up to enjoy family time with the grandchildren, and even great-grandchildren, enjoying a much-deserved “passing of the torch”. While I really loved having so much of our family all together–Mark’s family, my family, some new “significant others” as the kids are growing up and bringing people with them—there was still also an emptiness without my mom. I imagine there always will be. But, what I know, is doing my very best to continue the holiday dinners with all the love and care she always put into them, is a way to pay tribute to her. In the end, it was a great day. And although I wish dearly that my mom had been there enjoying the day with us, I know she would have been happy seeing us together, embracing the people that she loved so much, welcoming new people into the fold, and carrying on her traditions. So I did my best to make it happen.
When we built or house last year, the holidays were something we considered as we made design choices. With four kids between us, from the ages of 17-24, we knew big (and growing bigger by the year) family gatherings were in our future. We designed an open and bright kitchen with the biggest center island we could fit, plus room for a long table to accommodate lots of people. We managed to get 13 at the table for this Easter, and we could have squeezed one more in on the other end, for a max of 14. I’m going to have to get creative once we grow past this number.
Take Help Where You Need It
Although I enjoy cooking, and my husband does too, this year we had to make a concession and get a little help with the meal. I’m currently taking some graduate classes that are keeping me hopping, I’ve got a new job next year that I’ve been doing a lot to prepare for, and we had to attend a funeral for Mark’s sweet Aunt Kay in Cleveland the weekend before Easter. So, we ordered our Easter dinner from HyVee’s catering department. In the future, when life isn’t so chaotic, I hope we can make the meal ourselves like Mom always did, but this year was just not the year to take it all on at once.
Taking some help with the food let me focus on setting a warm and inviting table. I really love having so many people that I care about all gathered around the table together, talking, eating, connecting. It’s those kind of moments, that no matter what else is going on in life, I feel like it’s all going to be okay.
Invest in Things That Are Not “Holiday Specific”
When I’m creating a tablescape, I like to start early, so I can play with it a little until I get it how I want it. For this one, I had a picture in my mind, and wanted to come close to that without having to buy a lot of things. I set this one up a few days ahead, so I could see what was missing and have time to experiment. Plus, when I do purchase things, I try to select things I can use again for other occasions. For example, I didn’t buy anything specifically Easter themed. I bought the blue ticking striped table runner on Amazon after looking all over at other options. Hobby Lobby, HomeGoods, and Bed, Bath and Beyond had lots of spring flowered or bunny runners, but those can only be used at Easter. And even then, you’re sort of stuck with the same theme every, single Easter if you buy one like that. By choosing the blue stripes, I could use it for this Easter and make it look spring-like, but it will be multifunctional for other holidays and purposes too.
The same goes for the round, woven water hyacinth placemats. I’ve wanted these for quite some time, as they are so versatile. They bring a natural element and texture to the table, and again, are not Easter themed at all, so I can use them many times over for holidays or even just every-day use.
I used my everyday white plates for this holiday, because they are the only ones that I had enough for 13 people. I have some nicer china, but sadly, some got broken in our move last year, and I didn’t have enough left. However, I always gravitate toward plain white dishes, and mixing and matching different white plates is fun, too!
Since I did want some Easter vibe on my table, without committing to buying something permanent, I used paper salad plates on top of the white dinner plates. They added some pink, and had a gold rim to give a little shimmer to the table. This is a great way to change your look from year to year, holiday to holiday–stick with neutrals or simple patterns on the basics, like the white dinner plates, table runner, and placemats, and then add flair with your accessories, or disposables that can be changed out easily.
Get Creative and Craft Some Things For Your Table
I used these super fun napkin rings from In My Own Style’s blog. She has a free printable that you can download, print on white card stock, and with some scissors and tape, you have an easy napkin ring without buying anything. It was adorable for this year, and next year I can do something new and different because I didn’t spend a ton of money on napkin rings that I would feel obligated to use to “get my money’s worth” out of them.
A Few Elegant Touches + Some Easy Elements = An Inviting Yet Comfortable Table Setting
I like using real cloth napkins for special occasions. They add such a nice touch, and you can fold them in many unique ways to create the look you want. The napkins I already had are ivory, and for the Easter bunny napkin rings, I wanted white, so I did buy two sets of a dozen each of the same white napkins that I already owned in ivory. Now I have 24 of both colors, so I’m all set for years to come. They wash up so nicely, trust me. I just gathered up these pure white napkins after dinner, tossed them into the wash on regular cycle, and all but one came out spotless. For the one with a little bit of a grease stain still on it, I dabbed on some hydrogen peroxide, washed one more time, and it was gone. They don’t wrinkle much either, so now they are folded and tucked away in the china cabinet, ready for the next time I want them.
For dessert, I used paper napkins and disposable Easter plates, because by then, everyone had spread out to various areas of the house or porch, and came back for pie when they were ready for it. We had already cleared the dinner dishes, so using disposables just made things simple and casual.
Consider Your Color Scheme
Because the paper salad plates that I used on top of the white dinner dishes were pink, I stuck with that color scheme this year, and chose pink flowers for my simple centerpiece. I picked up a few inexpensive stems of pink hyacinths and pink tulips from Trader Joe’s on my way home from work on Friday afternoon. Arranging them a couple of days early gave the flowers a bit of time to open up before Easter dinner.
Add Pieces That Have Meaning to You
These little vintage glass jars holding the flowers were a birthday gift to my mother a few years ago. Using them in my centerpiece felt like a way to have a memory of her with us at the table. She also gave me the little vintage pink depression glass berry bowls years and years ago. When I had my tablescape almost done, it still felt like it needed one more thing, and I remembered these bowls. Putting some soft pastel chocolate eggs in them for people to munch on added a little more color to the table.
The gray bunny sculpture and little bird salt and pepper shakers that I already had were the finishing touches. The final look was casual enough to still feel comfortable, yet just a bit elegant to make it special. It had a spring vibe to it, but not overly Easter-y, so I can repurpose many of these things for other occasions.
Following these steps will help you create a holiday dining experience for your family and friends that is special, yet still comfortable and inviting.