The sun seems to linger on September afternoons, casting a golden glow on the autumn season. There’s a sense of nostalgia in the air, as if we’re in a quiet place where time stands still. It’s a precious break between summer and the frosts that are soon coming, when summer is almost over and you begin to feel that autumn is creeping up on you. Golden leaves hark back to the days when green buds were appearing on the tips of chilly twigs, and it was just a few short months before that when we saw spring in full bloom.
These reminders of how quickly time passes help prepare us for winter by making us appreciate life and all it has to offer. There may be no better place in the world than at a fresh-air dinner with friends.
I am in love with the changing seasons, and I celebrate them by observing Nature’s transitions from one season to the next. I use the natural phenomena that occur at the change of seasons as cues to reflect inward and discover bits of personal wisdom that aid in navigating my own seasons in life. For example, autumn has always been a beautiful time of year for me; it’s when I feel most connected to Nature and myself.
In the autumn season, nature experiences senescence—the phase in aging when it lets go of its old forms—and so do we. That’s what makes this season so special: it gives us an opportunity to prepare for winter and say goodbye to parts of ourselves that are no longer useful or relevant. When I observe autumn’s natural process of aging gracefully and letting go, I am able to delve into those concepts and unearth ways to embrace the season of senescence within myself, my relationships, and my work.
I’m excited to show you how I host an autumn season gathering for my friends and family that help us connect and strengthen our relationships while honoring the transition of summer into fall. Today I’ll be sharing a behind-the-scenes look at how I create a magical atmosphere for entertaining. My goal is to inspire you to recreate a similar setting at your home, where you can share nourishing meals with those you love while creating special memories.
1) Choosing a Location
You really don’t need to hike miles into the wilderness to make your dinner feel intimate and magical. It’s all about being in nature; so stay close to home.
I always use my garden to host seasonal celebrations. I encourage you to use your outdoor space for entertainment as well.
I have found that hosting seasonal celebrations in my garden, especially when they coincide with the eight seasonal transition days (on the Wheel of the Year), helps me to be more mindful of seasonal changes.
2) Decorating for an Autumn Season Gathering
Fresh-cut wildflowers are a feast for the eyes when gathered from my own garden or on a wildflower walk. Filling simple glass jars with loosely arranged bouquets are easy for anyone to do and ensures that the natural beauty of the blooms really shine.
I also love to create a magical foraged centerpiece for the buffet table by pulling together branches or trimmings from both dried and blooming plants and arrange them for an eye-catching display. Here, I took an old wooden crate and arranged some of the dried flowers I had hanging in the studio. I included a large assortment of different wildflowers in muted shades, then sprinkled in some contrasting blossoms in eye-catching colors. I was pleased with how it turned out and will keep it after the gathering to decorate the studio.
If your yard is lacking in florals and natural textures, bring in some pumpkins or gourds to add to your decor along with dried corn and hay bales. These are all easy items to add that help make an autumn season celebration memorable.
3) Setting the Autumn Table
My table setting is a simple one that I have continued over the years. It consists of flowers clipped from my yard and foraged from nearby forests and fields, natural elements collected on nature walks, simple tea candles, and my kitchenware. The table setting is designed to be organic and minimal so that the focus remains on the energy of the communal dining experience, conversation, and enjoying friends.
4) An Autumn Season Menu
An autumn season gathering calls for fall flavors. For autumnal parties, it’s important to have a variety of warm drinks available. Mulled wine and spiced moon milk are both delicious choices, as is a non-alcoholic concoction like apple cider spiced with cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg.
For guests who prefer their beverages cold, craft some special cocktails that incorporate seasonal flavors and spices or grab a selection of local beer that offers seasonal specials and sparkling ciders. Double-walled ice buckets help keep cans and bottles cool without causing condensation on the outside of cans or bottles, so you can stock up on a variety pack of drinks and let your guests serve themselves.
For the meal, I look to apples, butternut squash, pumpkin, and nutty flavors when planning the menu. I look for recipes showcasing these traditional fall foods. Whatever you serve, formal dining can be a bit stuffy. Autumn entertaining calls for casual, family-style or buffet-style serving. Here are a few of my go-to menu ideas:
5) Create Ambiance
Lighting is an important aspect of any evening seasonal celebration. To create a soft, magical atmosphere, I use a variety of lighting including string lights with soft glow Edison bulbs and candles. Any lighting that produces a warm glow makes them perfect for evening outdoor entertaining during the autumn season.
If you have a fire pit or area for a fire, but don’t have comfy seating, use stumps used for chopping wood which can double as extra seats. Split logs can be stacked carefully nearby so anyone can keep the fire going.
Music is also an important consideration that adds a lot of ambiance to any seasonal celebration or gathering. I like to create a playlist that takes into account the duration of the gathering to avoid repeating songs.
When you create your own playlist from scratch, you have the power to control the tone of your party. Be sure to think carefully about the people your music will be playing for, as well as considering the time of day, volume and how you want your guests to feel during and after your event.
For my gatherings, I want my guests to be chilled and relaxed so I avoid songs that are attention-grabbing and do not flow well together. I keep the volume of the music low but noticeable. I love to pick songs that bring about nostalgia. Here’s a Spotify playlist that I like:
Autumn Playlist – Spotify
6) Encourage Conversation
With a few strategic moves, you can create a welcoming space that invites guests to linger. Arrange furniture to encourage conversation. Chairs should be positioned around tables so that guests can face one another and make it easier for them to talk, and also facilitates conversations between acquaintances. I also like to add throw blankets around the outdoor seating. This is a simple way to transform my garden into a cozy space for fall when temperatures take a dip and will help keep guests warm as they stick around into the evening.
7) Plan an Activity
Keep your friends engaged in the fun of the autumn season by setting up a few seasonal activities. In my yard, the abundance of foliage is a wonderful opportunity to create a bouquet-making station with found branches and blossoms. I also always have dried flowers hanging in the studio to offer guests if the prefer an everlasting arrangement. I keep craft paper handy so guests can wrap their bouquets to take home as lasting keepsakes.
Another idea is to set up a smores-making table or pumpkin carving station, so you and your friends can enjoy an activity together.
8) Parting Gifts
As my guests leave, I like to give them a little something to take with them as a remembrance of the evening. For fall gatherings, it’s nice to gift guests with bundles of dried herbs and wildflowers tied together with twine. That way, if they ever want to remember your evening together, they can display them in their homes, light them and use them for smoke cleansing, or toss the fragrant bundles into any fire pit or fireplace for a burst of autumnal fragrance.
Although you cannot control every element of your gathering, by planning ahead and combining beautiful decor and delicious food, you can set the stage for a magical evening. Take the ideas and lessons you learn from your fall get-together and use them to guide your next elevated gathering.