Date: October 31, 2012
The next time you sit down to a holiday meal hosted by a family member or friend, take a moment to notice the china, linens and accessories. The serving spoons, cloth napkins or place card holders may be treasured family heirlooms. Rebecca Lang, a Georgia native and author of Southern Living Around the Southern Table: Coming Home to Comforting Meals and Treasured Memories (Oxmoor House, $29.95), takes special care to use heirloom linens at every holiday meal she hosts.
"Pulling out and using vintage family linens is paying homage to those who came before you. It's our responsibility to take care of them and pass them on," she says.
We asked Lang for tips from her own holiday table and suggestions for setting the perfect holiday "kids' table."
Wash, press, layer and roll linens. Keep antique linens in top shape by washing and pressing them after each use, then layering them with acid-free paper, Lang says. Store them flat or rolled around a cardboard tube to prevent wrinkles. "If you ever buy a small rug that comes on what looks like a huge roll, then cut it up and store (your linens) in it until you need them. Label the end of the roll," Lang says, to simplify identification of the different pieces.
Use flatware to prevent tarnish. "The easiest way to minimize tarnish is to use the flatware often," Lang writes in her book. "The more often it's used, the less often it needs polishing. ... And remember to wash it separately from stainless steel." Lang says using and washing silver flatware (and other silver pieces) about once a month is enough to prevent tarnish from forming. Also, never put sterling or other silver pieces in the dishwasher — always wash them by hand.
Keep centerpieces low. When decorating the table, choose low centerpieces so guests can see each other. "I always make sure whatever I have — flowers, pumpkins, etc. — are low because it's awkward when people can't see each other," Lang says.
Serve up fun at the kids' table. Layer craft paper on top of your children's table, Lang suggests. Leave crayons or — if you're brave — Sharpies out for the children to write down what they're thankful for at Thanksgiving, for example. "Then roll it up and come back to it next year to see what they were thankful for the year before," Lang says.
Make kids feel special. Lang keeps kids a central part of her holiday meal while still seating them at their own table. "I don't want them to feel like they're completely separate from us," she says. "I don't give them my nicest china, but I don't give them paper plates either, because I want them to feel like they're part of everything." She suggests adorning the kids' table with mini-versions of the centerpieces used on the adult table, such as smaller pumpkins and bud vases with similar flowers. "Leave out some markers so they can draw faces on their pumpkins," she adds.
Talk about family heirlooms. "I like to make sure the children know how blessed we are," Lang says. "I pull out all the family pieces and talk about where we came from. It's something we can all be grateful for."
Explore Lang's recipes and read more of her tips at rebeccalangcooks.com.