February 13, 2016 / 4th of Adar, 5776
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Shabbat How-To: Make a Festive Shabbat Table

There is nothing quite like the Shabbat table, that gleaming oasis of ivory, white, and silver. I hardly mind eating the rest of my meals on the T, at my desk, running to class, or on my couch, all because I know that a particularly special meal awaits me every Friday night. And while I’d probably be content with nothing more than my bowl of chicken soup, heaping portion of potato kugel, and hot date with G-d, I’m a sucker for jazzing things up. Shabbat is a very special time of the week, so treat your dining room table (or wherever you serve your Friday night meal) to a makeshift makeover to ensure that your holiday is a bit more exciting!

created at: 2011-11-11

Shabbat How-To Presents: Make a Festive Shabbat Table

What you need: A white tablecloth

Why? You can use any color tablecloth for your Shabbat table, but I recommend white (or ivory), as Friday night rituals work to usher in the “Shabbat Bride.” The Shabbat table should be as beautiful as a bride, and reflect the honor and reverence you have for welcoming Shabbat into your home. If you're looking for a tablecloth with a nice Jewish twist, check out the beautiful selection offered by Bible Land Shop.

What you need: Two challahs

Why? No, you don’t just have two challahs because you’re extra hungry. The two challahs on the Shabbat table symbolize manna, the miraculous food that fell from the sky and fed the Israelites as they trekked through the desert for 40 years. During the week, each person would receive one portion of manna, but on Shabbat, they would receive a double portion—one to be eaten on Friday, and the other on Saturday. The two challahs serve to hearken us back to the days of our ancestors and remind us of the bounty of Shabbat.

What you need: A challah cover

Why? Before you bless the two challahs—and proceed to devour them—they must sit under a challah cover. Challah covers are typically rectangular pieces of embroidered cloth, but their scope is nearly endless (you can even make your own!) The challah cover, like the challahs themselves, also reminds us of ancient times. As the manna fell from the sky each morning, it lay sandwiched between two layers of dew, in order to protect it from the sand below and the dust above. Likewise, we sandwich our challah between two layers—the tablecloth below, and the challah cover above. If you're looking to purchase a beautiful cover, check out the formidable selection from Eichlers.

created at: 2011-11-11

What you need: Shabbat candles

Why? We light Shabbat candles around 18 minutes before Sundown on Friday nights to recognize the significance of Shabbat and to bring light into our lives. I recommend white wax candles, as they burn cleanly. I have a set of silver candlesticks that I use exclusively for Shabbat, which always makes the ceremony feel special to me. If you're looking to buy a pair of Shabbat candlesticks, I recommend checking out the selection from The Jewish Museum, or you can make your own (a particularly fun endeavor if you have kids).

What you need: Kiddush cup

Why? Before we eat the Shabbat meal, we say the blessing over the wine, which serves to remind us that Shabbat is G-d's gift to the Jewish people. To make the blessing extra special, it is customary to put the wine in a silver goblet called a kiddush cup. I've collected quite a few over the years, and my favorites are adorned with engravings of sites in Israel, as well as Hebrew blessings and various Judaic embellishments. If you're in the market for a new (and affordable!) kiddush cup, check out the great selection from the Judaica Web Store.

So, now that your "table staples" are good to go, you can have a little fun with the rest of your decorations! Here are some suggestions:

  • Flowers add a vibrant burst of color to your table and always look beautiful on a white backdrop.
  • Don't be afraid to get seasonal! It's November, so I'm basically in THM (Total Harvest Mode) all the time. I'm thinking luscious browns, crimsons, and oranges, plus seasonal fruits, flowers, and other festive adornments.
  • DIY Shabbat-o-grams are a fun and easy way to make your dinner guests feel special. All you need is a marker, some construction paper, and your creative spirit, and you're ready to make some nice notes for your family and friends, sending good vibes for Shabbat and the week ahead.
  • Homemade decorations are an easy way to make a big statement. In the past, I've tried everything from little cards with inspiration quotes from my favorite Jewish leaders, to pictures that illustrate the Shabbat rituals, to fortune tellers offering a variety of Shabbat wishes.

As always, if you have suggestions for making your Shabbat table a little bit more fabulous, feel free to share them in the comments section below!

Photos by Jitterbean Girl and flickr user epistemographer

This post is part of the Ultimate Shabbat How-To Guide, which is filled with awesome ways to put a DIY spin on your Shabbat and bring a little more meaning into your weekly practice. Check out the guide for more tips on cooking, decorating, and observing Shabbat rituals, and feel free to share your own tips or general musings.

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