Here We Come A-Wassailing

Holiday celebrants set a table at Cranbrook House reminiscent of how the home’s original owners might have enjoyed a feast


Photos by Darrel Ellis

The backstory: When Janet Cameron and Janice Mies, both members of the The Herb Society of America Southern Michigan Unit, began to envision their special dining table for the 2015 Cranbrook Holiday Splendor: Tinsel & Trees event, they took a veritable stroll down a historic, musical path. The two friends, who worked in tandem with other members of the herb society, embraced all things English to create what looked like a true Christmas Eve wassail feast. “We wanted to connect to Cranbrook in England,” says Cameron, who is from Stratford Upon Avon, grew up in the Cotswolds region, and now lives in Troy. Beyond a gorgeous tablescape, a pretty tree decorated by Annie Gruber and others graced the space. One glimpse at the scene and Holiday Splendor attendees felt as if a true wassail gathering was about to take place, early 1900s style.

Spicing things up: Several herb society members made old-fashioned aromatic pomanders (perfume balls) to decorate the table. A pomander was typically an orange or an apple, studded with cloves.

Tuning up: A spot for a make-believe musical trio was fashioned near the tree. “We made it look as if the musicians had just put their instruments down and were taking a break,” Mies says. Cone tree decorations (filled with berries) were made of old sheet music. Musical instruments also were placed on or near the tree, including vintage clarinets, a violin, a saxophone, and four recorders.  

Bowled over: To the right of the fireplace, a large silver wassail cup, which typically was silver or wooden and filled with a spiced ale and cider mix, added to the cheery scene.     

Janet Cameron and Janice Mies

Special blend: “Setting tables is creative; I like to mix and match, as we don’t always have 12 of everything,” says Mies, who lives in Birmingham. The women used Cameron’s Wedgwood Charnwood china. “It was my mother’s,” Cameron says. “When I was a teen, my father and I stood in line for a special sale at a shop in Stratford Upon Avon.” Other dishes are from Mies’ husband’s grandmother (the dishes were given to Mies’ son, Chris, because his grandmother recognized that he liked to cook). “They have pinks and burgundies, so they went with our color theme,” Mies says.

Proof is in the pudding: Cameron made faux figgy pudding out of salt dough and used instant coffee for paint. Fondant icing was used to look like a traditional rum custard. “Traditionally, these would have been wrapped in muslin and steamed for hours — that’s a traditional Christmas pudding.” For more information, see this issue’s This Season page.

Choice chairs: Each chair was adorned with a special herbal swag, created by members of the herb society using rosemary, holly, heather, and bay leaves.  

Center stage: For the centerpiece, three tiers of vintage glass dishes were filled with flowers, herbs, fruits, and nuts.

Train of thought: This year, members of The Herb Society of America Southern Michigan Unit will again decorate the dining room and tree. The theme, Tea On the Orient Express, will tie in with the house’s  Holiday Splendor: Trains & Trees event, Dec. 1-4. For more information, go to

love and joy come to you
From left: A centerpiece festooned with feathers, fruit, and flora; a music-themed tree; and pieces from Cameron’s and Mies’ china collection adorn the table.

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