Celebratory meals call for a bit more embellishment than the everyday dining table. Your holiday extravaganza, the pre-trick-or-treat bash, or any special occasion is more festive with an imaginative centerpiece. When you're short on time or watching the budget, try turning the ordinary into the extraordinary -- and add a dose of Mother's Helper to the mix for a table the whole family will enjoy.
1. Bloom and Glass
Collect a variety of clear glass forcing vases and empty bottles such as milk bottles, wine bottles or brandy decanters. Fill the containers with halfway water, and separate a bunch of large, colorful flowers such as gerbera daisies. Place one or two flowers in each container and mass the mix of bottles and vases together in the center of a round table. Spread them down the middle of a rectangular table in a line. The stems are visually interesting, distorted by the glass and water. The blossoms are delicate or vivid, and the containers are a sculptural element that doesn't overwhelm the table, because light pours through them. Substitute a clump of clear plastic containers roped together with rustic twine and centered on the table if you are dining with exuberant, very young children.
2. Spookables or Sparkle
Halloween calls for a scary centerpiece. Make yours equal parts creepy and clever. Hollow out a big pumpkin, fit a clear plastic or glass bowl inside, and position a small flashlight or a light stick in the center of the bowl. Surround the light with wrapped Halloween candies and crack the light stick or click the flashlight on before sitting down. Two fake skulls on either side of the pumpkin, a scattering of small, decorative gourds and fake autumn leaves, and a couple of glittering or realistic black spiders completes the trick-or-treat table. A grown-up holiday dinner gets glitter and shine from a few standard seasonal decorations, redirected to the dining room. Center a fat pillar candle -- white, red or green -- in a glass hurricane on a narrow red table runner. Wind cut evergreen branches around a string of white holiday lights, and arrange it down the center of the runner, looping it once around the hurricane and candle.
3. Trifle Bowl Time-Saver
Raid the serving dishes and the pantry for an instant centerpiece that adds a fresh touch to a last-minute luncheon or tea. Layer a glass trifle bowl with unshelled pecans or a bag of mixed unshelled nuts. Pile a dozen lemons or bright-orange clementines on top of the nuts so the fruit heaps up above the center of the bowl. Tuck a few stems of greenery into the fruit -- dark-green lemon leaves are fragrant and high contrast. Serve homemade lemonade or orange-flavored tea as a thematic beverage choice.
4. Toy Story
Fill glass bowls or several wide-mouth mason jars with old plastic alphabet letters, tiny toy cars, Legos or plastic cookie cutters. Poke small flags or pennants into the toys, or anchor an all-day lollipop or a single big flower with its stem in a water tube in each colorful container. Show helpers how to cut big circles from bright craft paper, and let them arrange the circles on the table and place a toy centerpiece on each circle. Napkin rings for paper or cloth napkins enliven the suppertime display. Cut 2-inch-wide strips of craft paper, overlap the strips at the ends to make circles and fasten them with a glue stick. Let the paper rings dry before slipping them over the napkins. Big kids can help little ones with the gluing.
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