At the risk of sounding hokey — or worse — cliché, the holidays have always evoked a sense of magic for me. There’s something about that altered state of reality for a few months that’s punctuated by chunky sweaters, dinner parties, nostalgic tunes, and atmospheric decor that deeply resonates with my personality. Last year, I hosted my first ever Friendsgiving and was enthusiastic about the task of setting this type of mood for my guests. The cheeseboard was a great opener, sure, and the festive pre-dinner glass of bubbly and game of football in the park also worked well, but the element that cemented the magic for the entire affair was a small, unexpected Friendsgiving decor piece: a candlestick (a few, to be specific).
As my friends sat down at the dinner table, I slowly lit my candles from Anna + Nina. They were a playful mix of colorful, swirly pillar candles placed inside glass holders at varying heights. We dimmed the rest of the light in the room and just like that — instant magic. Dinner felt more festive, conversations steered deeper and longer, and I had a realization it likely had something to do with the gentle, steady flicker coming from the candles.
From an evolutionary standpoint, humans are hardwired to gather around the fire. Even throughout prehistoric times it’s been said to have served as the focal point for socializing, language development, and a sense of safety and warmth. I also came across a 2014 study that concluded the “flickering light, crackling sounds, and distinctive smell” that a fire provides is effective in decreasing blood pressure. All this to say, there’s quite a lot to be said about fire — and although it’s not realistic to construct a campfire in your dining room, I found a smattering of candlesticks to be a reliable alternative.
Turns out, I’m not alone in this sentiment. “At a gathering, ambiance is everything. It’s what makes you feel warm and welcome in a space; and candles are one of the easiest ways to set the scene and make an impact quickly when styling a dinner party,” Feste Founder Brenna Gilbert says. “I turn off overhead lighting immediately, relying on my candles or soft table lamps to make the space feel more intimate.” Shelley Sanders, the founder and creative director at The Last Line is singing the same tune. “Candles make everything feel fancy and everyone feel pretty! It's the best and such a simple addition,”she says. “Skip the overhead lighting (your guests will thank you) and keep your dinner to candles and cocktails.”
If you’re new to the dining-with-candles game, there’s a lot of opportunity for creativity. “Mix and match everything, the more the merrier. I like to mix in varying heights on the table to add depth and drama,” Sanders says. “For candles, there are so many options. I love classic tapers in any color but I really love the color drip candles. Light them 30 minutes before your guests arrive and they'll be perfect.” Gilbert approaches her candlescape by first determining what story she's trying to tell. “If it’s an irreverent, glamorous dinner party, consider large displays of dripping candelabras or an assortment of mixed tapers. If it’s an outdoor cookout, opt for small tealight candles on the table, and rely on a nearby fire pit to give loud, crackling Patagonian vibes — Francis Mallmann anyone? Is it a celestial summer event? I recommend floating tea candles with local wildflowers.”
Gilbert also offers a hack for those who don’t have a candelabra in their repertoire. “One of my favorite candle hacks is tossing a handful of taper candles in a vase or champagne bucket and lighting them for a dramatic feel,” she says. Ahead, discover and shop the most magical categories of candlesticks to come up with your very own Thanksgiving or Friendsgiving tablescape decor this year.
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