The Underappreciated Role of the Holiday Table

You spend a lot of time thinking about your holiday meal. But what about the table that’s underneath it?

Like mistletoe and ugly sweaters, the communal table is an undeniable component of any holiday celebration. Be they priceless heirlooms or thrifted card tables (perhaps artfully hidden beneath holly-embroidered tablecloths), these pieces of furniture stand witness to the most significant meals of our lives, along with the arguments, the jokes, the stories, and the prayers we share year after year. With this in mind we asked some of our favorite chefs, food writers, and culinary thought leaders to share with us their favorite memories of the communal tables that have carried their holiday feasts. Here’s what they had to say.

Molly O'Neill

Food Writer and Cookbook Author


“I live on Main Street in a teeny hamlet in upstate New York, Rensselaerville. It has about 50 houses, most from pre-colonial and colonial era. On Christmas Eve I cook either late lunch or late dinner—it depends when the church service is, which in turn depends on the weather—for the entire village. I never know how many will show up. I cook for 150 people. I set everything out on my dining room table and people come and go and serve themselves. I usually go French. Cassoulet or Bouillabaisse. This year I am making serious French onion soup, with lots of bread, cheese, a couple killer pâtés, and about a zillion cookies. The table is made of chestnut and it looks like a harvest table. But it is not a harvest table, exactly. Rather, it is a folding table that was used in the nineteenth century on the Lower East Side of New York City to sort hops. I’m told that when hops came into the city (most likely from right around here, by the way) hundreds of tables like this were set end-to-end and day laborers sorted the hops for brewers. This table is special because it is marked, so its Provenance is clear. At Christmas, the table is a buffet, but people end up pulling up chairs and sitting down anyway. It has that effect on a person.”

Louisa Shafia

Chef and Cookbook Author

Photo by Sara Remington

“I have a handmade table a friend made for me out of an old door that I decorate for the Persian tradition of sofreh, a ‘spread’ in Farsi. It refers to the ancient Zoroastrian custom of spreading a cloth on the ground during special occasions and covering it with symbolic elements. For the winter holiday of Shab-e Yalda on December 21, I put out fruit and nuts and different snacks. You eat summer fruits for this holiday—the thinking is if you start the winter by eating some summer fruits you won’t be ill during the cold season. So interestingly, watermelon is the symbolic center of the table and the most important at Shab-e Yalda, and then you also eat pomegranate, dried fruits and nuts, or even citrus. You can also cover the table with a beautiful cloth and put out candles—they’re a light against the darkness—and a book of Hafiz poetry. The whole vibe of the holiday is to stay up till midnight (or past) and that way you’ve gotten through the longest night of the year. You read poetry, and tell stories and jokes. It bodes well for the year to come.”

Molly Yeh

Food Blogger at My Name is Yeh

Photo by Molly Yeh

“My favorite part of the holidays is my family’s annual Dumplings of the World party where we set up some folding tables, cover them in flour, and make all sorts of goodies like potstickers, pierogi, gnocchi, empanadas... It’s a mess but so tasty and fun. We need a lot of tables for these, so folding tables, our kitchen table and counter, and sometimes even the ping pong table are fair game. Using the ping pong table is great because it’s so huge and it makes us feel like we’re putting it to good use since we haven’t actually played ping pong since the 90s or something.”

Naama Shefi

Culinary Curator and Director of Communications at EatWith

Photo by Katherine Needles

“Growing up on a kibbutz in Israel, I didn’t know anything else besides eating communally. But decorating the communal tables wasn’t what we emphasized: it was very neat and clean and minimalist, even for the holidays. But conceptually, it was special. When I did my pop up dinner called the Kubbeh Project, I wanted to bring the ultimate Israeli eating experience to New York—not just the flavors and the dishes but more so the experience of sharing a table. In Israel there are these family-owned hole-in-the-wall eateries that are so special because people from all different parts of society will sit together for lunch—you share a meal, sitting next to each other. There is something different that happens when you sit literally so close to one another.”

Jeremy Goldfarb

Chef at Munchery

“My wife and I bought a house a couple years ago and for the dining room, we kept thinking about a table from our wedding—kind of a funky farm table—rustic, hand-crafted, kind of weathered-looking. The space was really open and we wanted to add a specific feeling of warmth, which we couldn’t seem to find in a store. So I actually built the farm table myself. It was the first woodworking project I’d ever taken on, and I had to teach myself how to do it. I borrowed some tools, found some wood, made the recommended cuts, and assembled it myself. Our table’s very first meal was Thanksgiving. My mom set the table that year with whiteware that’d been handed down to her over the years, which was so great since I watched her cook and plate the holidays meals as I grew up. She always encouraged me to try new things with food, and she’s probably what led me to Munchery. I’d put in some time in restaurants and wanted to do something innovative, but I also wanted to spend a little more time with my family, at holidays or just everyday family meals.”

Articles

We've all felt lonely at some point in our lives. It's a human experience as universal as happiness, sadness or even hunger. But there's been a growing trend of studies and other evidence suggesting that Americans, and people in general, are feeling more lonely than ever.

It's easy to blame technology and the way our increasingly online lives have further isolated us from "real" human interactions. The Internet once held seemingly limitless promise for bringing us together but seems to be doing just the opposite.

Except that's apparently not true at all. A major study from Cigna on loneliness found that feelings of isolation and loneliness are on the rise amongst Americans but the numbers are nearly identical amongst those who use social media and those who don't. Perhaps more importantly, the study found five common traits amongst those who don't feel lonely.

Keep Reading Show less
Health

He photographed Nazi atrocities and buried the negatives. The unearthed images are unforgettable.

He risked his life to leave a "historical record of our martyrdom."

via Yad Vashem and Archive of Modern Conflict, 2007

In September 1939, the Nazis invaded Poland. By April 1940, the gates closed on the Lodz Ghetto, the second largest in the country after Warsaw.

Throughout the war, over 210,000 people would be imprisoned in Lodz.

Among those held captive was Henryk Ross. He was a Jewish sports photographer before the Nazi invasion and worked for the the ghetto's Department of Statistics during the war. As part of his official job, he took identification photos of the prisoners and propaganda shots of Lodz' textile and leather factories.

Keep Reading Show less
Communities
WITI Milwaukee

Joey Grundl, a pizza delivery driver for a Domino's Pizza in Waldo, Wisconsin, is being hailed as a hero for noticing a kidnapped woman's subtle cry for help.

The delivery man was sent to a woman's house to deliver a pie when her ex-boyfriend, Dean Hoffman, opened the door. Grundl looked over his shoulder and saw a middle-aged woman with a black eye standing behind Hoffman. She appeared to be mouthing the words: "Call the police."

"I gave him his pizza and then I noticed behind him was his girlfriend," Grundl told WITI Milwaukee. "She pointed to a black eye that was quite visible. She mouthed the words, 'Call the police.'"

Keep Reading Show less
Good News


Rochester NY Airport Security passing insulting notes to travelers caught on tape www.youtube.com

Neil Strassner was just passing through airport security, something he does on a weekly basis as part of his job. That's when a contract airport security employee handed him a small piece of folded cardboard. Strassner, 40, took the paper and continued on his way. He only paused when he heard the security employee shouting back at him, "You going to open the note?"

When he unfolded the small piece of paper, Strassner was greeted with an unprompted insult. "You ugly!!!"

According to Strassner, and in newly released CCTV of the incident, the woman who handed him the note began laughing loudly.

Keep Reading Show less
popular

Facebook: kktv11news

A post on the Murdered by Words subreddit is going viral for the perfect way a poster shut down a knee-jerk "double-standard!" claim.

It began when a Redditor posted a 2015 Buzzfeed article story about a single dad who took cosmetology lessons to learn how to do his daughter's hair.

Most people would see the story as something positive. A dad goes out of his way to learn a skill that makes his daughter look fabulous.

Keep Reading Show less
Lifestyle