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8 tips to create a fun, memorable Thanksgiving table

Beautiful holiday table - by Grateful

by Kara G. Morrison, The Arizona Republic |

Cicely Rocha-Miller loves creating a fun Thanksgiving table. It’s the time of year, she says, when the tablescape can be over the top.

“Nothing is like Thanksgiving dinner,” says Rocha-Miller, a Phoenix, Arizona event planner who owns Life Design Event Planning. “Christmas is about the presents and the tree, but Thanksgiving is all about the dinner.”

Rhonda Rush is equally enthusiastic about all the creative ways to put together a gorgeous holiday table that feels both welcoming and festive. “You don’t have to play it safe and be predictable,” says Rush, owner of Impact Events in Phoenix. “Let your personality show.”

Rush and Rocha-Miller shared these eight tips for making the holiday memorable, impeccable and fun for your guests by creating beautiful Thanksgiving tablescapes.

beautiful holiday table with teal napkins

1. Involve your guests

There’s always that lag time between visitors arriving and the meal. Rush likes the idea of creating a “thankful tree,” an entryway display or centerpiece using a manzanita branch (it looks like a small tree). Guests can write what they’re thankful for on leaf-shaped paper (make them or find them at party stores) and hang them on the tree.

Jill Murphey of Avant-Garde Studio in Phoenix, who created beautiful floral centerpieces and tablescapes with Rush, says she has always followed a similar tradition. “My daughter and I used to do this book, and we called it the grateful book. Everybody wrote their ‘gratefuls’ in it every year.” The book is now a cherished heirloom with decades of family memories in it.

Rocha-Miller came up with another fun idea. Her place cards held a Thanksgiving Mad Libs-style game that guests could fill in. She also has done Thanksgiving bingo cards at the table. “You can mix formal with fun,” she says.

Autumn place setting with leaves, candles and pumpkins.

2. Play with color and texture

Rush starts to pull a tablescape together by choosing the linens and deciding on the centerpiece. She and Murphey created two very different tablescapes — a traditional Thanksgiving table and a more modern setting.

On the traditional table, Rush used warm fall colors — orange, copper, brown and red, with a hint of purple for fun. A high-end tablecloth from La Tavola Fine Linen in Scottsdale, Arizona, added texture and pattern. Murphey designed an eye-popping “floral harvest” arrangement using roses, sunflowers, miniature pumpkins, small succulents and orange votive candles.

MORE: Real people share their Thanksgiving table settings

For the modern tablescape, Rush and Murphey used only three colors: black, white and yellow. Although the colors don’t scream Thanksgiving, Murphey painted pumpkins white and decorated them with black-and-white ribbons, then used yellow roses, marigolds, mums and sunflowers around them to create a festive centerpiece. A black-and-white ikat tablecloth and black napkins in a modern fold added to the bold, modern look, as did black ghost chairs from Kool Party Rentals in Tempe.

“It’s easy to play it safe, but it’s fun to be unpredictable,” Rush says.

3. Make it personal

Guests love to be included, and a great way to do that is with little details such as place cards. “Personalize the tables for your guests, so they feel special,” Rush says.

Menu cards are another detail that can be personalized with the guest’s name, the date and venue. And a bonus: They make a great souvenir of the day.

4. Involve the kids

Rush is a big fan of giving children a role in helping plan holiday events. Put them to work creating place cards, menus or napkin rings. They’ll like contributing, and guests will love the personal touch of these handmade items.

MORE: 21 DIY rustic and glitzy Thanksgiving name cards

Festive fall table setting place setting home decorations with pumpkins

5. Recycle

It’s always good for the budget and the environment to reuse things when you can. Rush used pine cones and grouped acorns as place-card holders on her traditional Thanksgiving tables, and they can be repurposed for potpourri. On both tables, she used pumpkins, which can be reused from Halloween. And the succulents on her traditional table can be repurposed as well.

6. Try a DIY centerpiece

Rocha-Miller created several table centerpieces that would be easy for the DIY hostess. One used small cylinder vases filled with a twig and a single white rose. The grouping of 13 small rose-filled vases made a statement on a small budget. To that, she added protea flowers, spray-painted gold, sitting on a bed of black river rock in larger square vases.

pretty gold charger and white plate for thanksgiving

On another table, Rocha-Miller used single cala lillies in larger cylinder vases with floral beads and a glittery gold decoration. Votive candles are always festive and affordable around any centerpiece.

“Sometimes the food is the centerpiece, and that’s okay, too,” she says.

MORE: 8 DIY Thanksgiving table centerpieces

7. Mix and match

On one table, Rocha-Miller experimented with white and gold place settings that were similar, but not exactly the same.

“The sea of sameness is kind of going out the door. It’s okay to bring in things that aren’t matchy-matchy — as long as there is a cohesiveness to it all,” Rocha-Miller says.

8. Rent it

Event planners say there’s an advantage to renting things like linens and dishes for a gorgeous Thanksgiving table. First, you don’t have to wash anything, just scrape the plates and return everything in their containers. Second, you don’t have to invest in buying and finding space to store tons of dishes. And finally, you can create a new look every year and even embrace trends.

This year, for example, gold flatware is fun — but you probably wouldn’t want to purchase a ton of gold flatware if you already have a formal set.

MORE: How to set a formal Thanksgiving dinner table

“I say don’t buy, rent,” says Rocha-Miller, who worked with Cre8ive Event Rentals in Tempe, Arizona, to offer several Thanksgiving tablescape ideas. The store will rent out linens and all dishware to any holiday hostess. “It’s cheaper,” she says, “and you’re able to do something different every year.”

Table shown in the top two photos provided courtesy of Nick’s Furniture in Phoenix, Arizona

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