Home decor is the weak link in a lot of Jewish celebrations. I'm not talking about aping Martha Stewart, or stringing blue and white X-mas tree lights at Chanuka time. But with just a little effort, you can use decorating to add mood, even emotion, to holiday events.
True, the meaning and warmth of a holiday don't come from the table settings. Ritual, tradition, family -- of course these things matter most. But the table itself can become a memorable part of the holiday, something to look forward to and something to cherish, as much a part of holiday memories as friends, family and food.
To get started, you'll need to keep in mind these three simple concepts :
Use Nature For Bountiful Displays
I rush home from work about one hour before our friends are arriving for Shabbat. As I start to take out olives and wine, I also retrieve my garden clippers (kept by the kitchen sink) and set my gaze on one of Shabbat's blessings -- a chance to visit my garden.
During the week, I barely have time to even look at it, so I look forward to pruning a display as sunset approaches. Dismiss the idea of only displaying flowers -- think about large, inspiring branches. A favorite of mine are eucalyptus branches, towering out of a French flower-stall bucket.
Remember to include herbs as displays. A vase of rosemary, dill or parsley looks great in the kitchen or on the table, and you can pick them up when you are at the market.
You don't have to have a garden to use nature. Try store-bought carrots with their leafy fronds still intact, or exotic fruits in season like passion fruit. A tray decorated with abundant artichokes and lemons is beautiful. Keep it seasonal (pomegranates in fall, peaches and plums in summer) and make sure each piece is wiped clean. The point is that you do not even need to prepare the food -- just display it.
Use White For
A table finished with a white tablecloth is not just traditional, it's also elegant. Also use white oversized dinner napkins. For Shabbat white implies bride-like purity.
Laundering may seem a nuisance, but a linen cloth can be placed in a hot wash with bleach, removing most stains. First try treating the stain with a little salt and seltzer.
Use Surprise for Distraction
A little surprise doesn't take a lot of planning. Place something unexpected at the table, especially helpful when children are arriving. The surprise will add a little distraction at a time when you need to take a breath, and attend to the final details of the meal. You can slip a gold chocolate coin under each plate, or a tuck an inexpensive toy into the napkins.
These style suggestions are just that, suggestions. Add details to your own table that reflect you and your family's personality. The days jumble by, and Shabbat seems to be the only time we can step back and reassess life's purpose and true meaning. Giving attention to the aesthetics of the Shabbat table is one more way to set the day apart and make it special.
Last week we went to our friend's home for Shabbat, and the table was prepared beautifully, white linen tablecloth and all. As we said the blessings, their son poured sweet red wine into his kiddush cup --with some extra spilling onto the tablecloth. No one even flinched. The point is that he loves Shabbat in his home, and he poured the wine himself. That is style. The real glamour is you.
Naomi Zimmerman is an interior designer in Los Angeles.