What's a Cornucopia? 5 Ways to Decorate Your Thanksgiving Table with One

These favorite fall centerpieces are older than the United States.

fall leaves and grasses in a cornucopia

Hector Manuel Sanchez

Much like mashed potatoes and gravy or turkey and stuffing, Thanksgiving and cornucopias are an iconic pair. Despite being a common fixture at the dinner table, you might not know why cornucopias are associated with the holiday. Surprisingly, this festive centerpiece has a long history (we're talking centuries) and tons of meaning. 

This year, as you prep your Thanksgiving table with DIY napkin rings, pretty placemats, and your best serving platters, think about adding a cornucopia. It might just be the perfect centerpiece to represent your plentiful spread and gratitude. 

The History of the Cornucopia

Cornucopias are nearly 2,700 years old. The word cornucopia stems from the Latin words cornu copiae, which translates to horn of abundance. Cornucopias were first depicted in Greek mythology around 700 B.C. The mythos involved a goat horn being used to feed Zeus, the god of sky and thunder, when he was a baby. It continued to be used as a vessel to give gifts of fruits and flowers to Zeus by admirers.

The word cornucopia was used for the first time by the English in the 16th century. It was used to describe the distinct horn-shaped basket we recognize today. Even then, the item was used to celebrate the abundance of each harvest. Each cornucopia showed off the fruits and vegetables that came from the hard work of the growing season.

How Cornucopias Are Used Today

When you think of a cornucopia, you probably think of Thanksgiving. But it wasn't until 1863 that Thanksgiving became an official holiday. President Abraham Lincoln declared the last Thursday of the month of November would be used to honor the historical event of the feast between the Wampanoag Native Americans and Plymouth settlers in 1621. Due to the shared feast and the English use of cornucopias in harvest festivals, cornucopias are now a common symbol of the holiday.

Add a cornucopia to your Thanksgiving table this year with our ideas for modernizing the classic fall decor element to fit your home.

5 Ways to Use a Cornucopia in Your Thanksgiving Decor

cornucopia filled with flowers

Jay Wilde

1. Weave in Flowers

Make your table burst with color with a bounty of blooms. Create a cornucopia that serves as a festive floral arrangement by incorporating popular autumn flowers, such as sunflowers, mums, celosia, purple fountain grass, sweet alyssum, or Salix stems. Scatter colorful fall leaves around the centerpiece to complete the arrangement. Consider using artificial flowers to have a ready-to-use cornucopia for years to come. Regardless if you pick fresh flowers or fake ones, they're sure to make an elegant focal point.

yellow and white cornucopia

Cameron Sadeghpour

2. Honor the Seasonal Harvest

Since cornucopias are representative of a harvest bounty, overfill yours with fruits and vegetables. Take advantage of in-season produce. It's perfect the occasion to stock up on fresh squash, apples, pomegranates, figs, persimmons, carrots, or kale. You can also create a vibrant color scheme that coordinates with your table setting depending on the produce you buy. This budget-friendly arrangement focuses on yellow and white goods, like pears, cauliflower, apples, and mini pumpkins.

fall leaves and grasses in a cornucopia

Hector Manuel Sanchez

3. Fill with Fall Foliage 

Take advantage of fall leaves or ornamental grasses by adding some foliage to your cornucopia. This simple addition will make your seasonal centerpiece shine with warm hues and pops of green. For a farmhouse look, add accents like sage, myrtle, leatherleaf fern, dusty miller, and silver dollar eucalyptus. Go outside and nab some natural goodies like fallen leaves and branches or head to the nearest crafts store for long-lasting faux versions.

Cornucopia Centerpiece

Michael Partenio

4. Add a Little Shimmer

Create a simple yet timeless cornucopia centerpiece with autumn colors. Select an array of gourds, fruits, and nuts to capture the full range of seasonal yellows, oranges, reds, and browns. Keep nuts in their shells for natural texture. Select different elements of your bounty and paint them with a metallic gold finish for a sparkling twist on a classic combination.

DIY snack cornucopia

Better Homes & Gardens

5. Make a Seasonal Snack

Fill your cornucopia with a tasty treat that complements the flavors of the big feast. Your guests will love the fun snack whether you choose sweet, salty, or both. Trail mix, popcorn, and warmed nuts work well in a paper-lined cardboard cone. Place individual cornucopias on each guest's plate or set them out for easy snacking. Don't fill them too full so guests save room for the full turkey spread to come.

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