Cornucopias and Being Thankful

Everywhere we look in November there are pilgrims, turkeys and baskets of fruits — or, as they are called this time of year, cornucopias. I know, shoppers will immediately remember the beloved shop in Charleston, but there is so much more to the word and its meaning.

The image of the horn-shaped basket overflowing with the garden harvest is common in the fall, representing abundance and nourishment. Cornucopias are also commonly known as a “horn of plenty.”

Maybe another nod to the horn is the shape of the basket worn by European farmers. They could wear this horn-shaped basket on their backs to carry the crops, leaving their hands free to gather harvest. Can you just imagine coming in from a day in the fields and the basket overflowing with garden treasures?

Today’s cornucopia baskets are not much different. Generally they are filled with apples, oranges, pumpkins and other gourds, but don’t be surprised to see nuts, corn or flowers spilling out of the baskets. Really, it can be as big or small as your table allows.

Back in the days of entertaining (Oh, how I miss inviting people to dinner!), I would create a cornucopia of gourds and flower heads or fill it with an assortments of breads to use as my table centerpiece.

Another idea for your horn of plenty basket: Fill it with small potted plants. Succulents and ferns would create a lovely mix. Why not add a few trinkets or small gifts, just for fun?

I have talked about using the baskets indoors, but this could be a seasonal addition to a porch table, serving as a welcome into your home. If creating this design outside, you can go wild and add mums, asters, ornamental cabbage and kale to create a large and lush fall display. I would leave the plants in containers and nestle them in with leaves or straw to finish the display. Although this type of arrangement is often short-lived, keep in mind you may need to water any living plants.

Of course, I love the history of the farmer, and his basket shaped for ease of harvesting crops, but there are a few other theories of how the horn of plenty came to be named.

Ancient Greek studies tell of the baby Zeus hiding in a cave and being cared for by a magical goat. During feeding, he broke off her horn and was then showered with an abundance of milk. This tells us how the shape of the basket and its never-ending supply of milk created a horn of plenty.

There is also a Roman tale of Hercules, the broken horn, and a battle for the love of a woman. Regardless of Zeus or Hercules, an animal’s horn filled with fruit is often depicted in early pottery, oil paintings and literature.
However you fill your cornucopia — notes of thanks from friends and family, garden harvest and edible treats, or flowers and gifts — take the time to remember that although this year has been difficult on many levels, we all have gifts of abundance in our lives and plenty to fill our horn and be thankful for this holiday season.