Q. I am responsible for decorating a luncheon we are having for our head of school. She is from France and so the theme is French. We are using luncheon tables and parents are making French foods. Since it is the holiday, how can I decorate each table to give it a French flair while incorporating the holiday season? Any suggestions would be most appreciated! (Tami in Newport Beach, CA)
A. Tami, many thanks for sending in your question! Here are a few suggestions for your luncheon.
Take the red, white, and blue colors from the French flag as the color scheme foundation. Use a combination of red and blue tablecloths as the base cloth for each luncheon table. On top of each base cloth, place a white paper cloth (available at any party store).
Decorate each paper cloth just with French words and phrases relating to the season, like Joyeux Noël, Pere Noel, Pre Fouettard. The school's students could do this as a class project, looking up words and phrases and using crayons or colored markers to write them in very ornate, decorative script. It would be stylish and meaningful to have the words touch one another with flowers and ornaments curling out of them to create the look of a fabric design.
In France, Christmas trees are sometimes decorated in the old way with red ribbons and real white wax candles. Pick up on these traditional themes at your table settings.
Tie a red ribbon lengthwise (top to bottom) around each person's folded paper or cloth napkin at each place setting. Slip-knot the ribbon at the bottom and and pull it taut, snipping the ends at an angle.
On some tables, group three or more white pillar candles (unscented, of course) in various heights in the center of each table surrounded by evergreen accents. Small boughs of evergreens can be tied with red ribbons. Add clusters of chestnuts around the evergreens, a tradition in the Burgundy region.
An alternative centerpiece suggestion is to use clear glass bowls and/or tall glass cylinders. Put one large or three smaller pillar candles in each one, surrounded by chestnuts or cranberries to hold them upright. Add small evergreen bough clusters tied up with red ribbons.
For a splurge, avoid evergreens and purchase miniature toy fir trees of different heights to group around the candle pillars.
Use Marzipan, typically employed for decorative purposes, dating to the Medieval Ages in France and other European countries. Purchase Marzipan treats (little fruits are fun along with the more traditional mushrooms) and radiate them out from the centerpieces to add a festive, colorful, appetizing touch to the tables.
If you're not plating the meal and bringing out served food to each diner, set up a buffet table for festive serve-yourself fun. Add sparkle with a larger, taller, more significant centerpiece than on the luncheon tables.
The French dishes brought by your school's parents can be displayed around the centerpiece, with diners serving themselves in a buffet line that flows around the table. Use a longer rectangular table or a larger round table to distinguish it from the luncheon tables.
Traditionally, ending a French Christmas meal with a Buche de Noel is always fun and appreciated. Epicurious has some recipes if one or two parents would like to tackle making something homemade; otherwise, a good bakery might have these available (you will probably need to order in advance).
You can get large Buche de Noels or smaller miniature ones, which would be quite charming and add to your table decor. Tartes, gateaux, and petit pains add to the French-themed holiday festivities.
We're sure your party will be a big hit. Good luck to you and that lucky head of school. Happy holidays to you and your family, Tami!