How to Set the Perfect Holiday Table

You’ve planned your meal well ahead of time. Why not spend the same quality time and advanced preparation on your table?

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So, you’re planning a bang-up feast for family with a menu you have carefully planned ahead of time. Maybe you are a veteran hostess with the mostest, or you’re a newbie host looking to make your culinary mark. Whichever it is, we are willing to bet that visions of cozy conversation and merriment amidst the delicious scent of turkey/roast beef/ham/Tofurkey/etc. are dancing in your head. But the question we have to ask is: what is your table going to look like?

Holiday Food

Whether you realize it or not, how you set your table says a lot. For starters, it is the visual precursor to the meal you will be serving. Let’s be honest, if you’re having friends and family over for a holiday meal, then you have undoubtedly put a lot of thought into what you will be feeding them. You should, therefore, put an equal amount of effort into what you will be serving your meal on. But also, your table says a lot about you as a person. It points to your taste, your creativity, your sense of style (or perhaps proud lack thereof—hey, we’re not judging), whether you are traditional or whimsical… the list goes on and on.

Happily, your table setting tastes can be changed as frequently as your shoes. It’s not like a china pattern you pick out once and are stuck with for decades to come. Have fun with it. And if we may, we have a few suggestions to help you set your perfect holiday table.

Your colour palate

Any holiday meal worth its salt (pardon the pun) is going to be served on a table with splashes of colour. Whether that colour is demure and understated or a smorgasbord of tones and hues and mismatched vibrancy is entirely up to you. Part of the fun of planning your holiday table is deciding what colours you are going to use. Red and green, of course, is a time-honoured Christmas combination, as is anything paired with white, silver or gold. You may wish to bring in new colour combinations to match up with the more traditional ones—say, pink and gold or blue and silver. You might even be so bold as to set your colours around a touch of Christmas plaid. Overall, the colours you choose set the tone for your meal. So choose accordingly.

Ways that you can bring colour to your table include table cloths, napkins, runners, placemats and charger plates (those oversized decorative discs that go under the main dinner plate). You can add colourful knickknacks to your table such as tree ornaments and bows, or play around with napkin rings. Have fun with it, be creative, and pull your table together with a carefully considered colour palate that will make a statement. Any statement you want.

The centrepiece

Let’s take a moment to talk about that statement piece in the centre of your table. It is a subject all on its own when we talk about decorating for dinner. Your centrepiece can be anything from a demure focal point to an outright conversation piece.

Greenery is a classic tradition for the holidays which can be traced back to pagan times when people would decorate their homes with evergreen boughs to stave off the drudgery of a long, dark winter. For a modern twist on this tradition, make your own by venturing out into your community to look for local greenery for your centrepiece.

Another suggestion we have is a theme of citrus fruit. Yes, we know—orange is for Halloween. It screams Skeleton Jack than more than it ho-ho-hollers Saint Nick. But did you know that citrus fruit is ripest at the holiday season? You can never go wrong with a clementine-based conversation piece at the centre of your table.

Whatever you choose, we encourage you to keep in mind one logistical tip: make sure your centrepiece is not so large that it impedes conversation. There is nothing that stifles a good family chat more than having to peer around tall candlesticks or blooms of oversized flowers and branches to see the loved one sitting across from you.

Holiday Family Table Cheers

Consider your guests

One important thing to remember as you’re creating your table masterpiece is this: all of the hard work you are doing to make your table look special is really about making your guests feel special. With your phenomenal table, you are telling your friends and loved ones that you value their presence. You want your meal to be their experience. Their memory. So, whether it’s muted beauty or glitz and chintz and colour overload, your table is all about them.

That being said, here are a few ideas that you can incorporate to make your table about your guests:

  • Consider snackables as decoration. How cool is it to have little bowls or nuts or candy strewn about that are edible, and that your guests can pick at in between courses?
  • Make sure there are enough salt and pepper shakers. If you can’t go as far as to give each guest their own set of mini shakers, make sure there are enough communal shakers to go around.
  • Go the extra mile and print out name cards. Not only does this add a personal touch for each one of your guests, it allows you to pre-plan who sits where for maximum conversation and togetherness.
Christmas table setting with bauble name card holder arranged on a plate and green and red table decorations

Prepare in advance

You’ve planned your meal well ahead of time. Why not spend the same quality time and advanced preparation on your table? Setting your holiday table ahead of your big day allows you to focus primarily on your meal when it is go time. Whether you do it the night before or days in advance, giving yourself that extra time will both reduce your stress and allow you to enjoy the process.

And most importantly…

Know your etiquette. There is a reason why napkins and silverware and water glasses should be just so. There are rules, people. And rules, as we all know… are made to be broken! That’s right. It’s your meal. You do it your way, no matter what Emily Post says. But as with any rule, it is best to know why it exists first so that if you are going to break it, you are doing it on purpose.

For example, did you know that silverware does not typically go on napkins because it’s an extra step for your guests to remove it? That kind of thing is good to know. But at the end of the day if spoons look good on napkins, then do it. If your guest list is composed primarily of south-paws, maybe don’t put the water glasses at the top right corner of their place.

If it makes sense for your meal, go ahead and break those rules. Just make sure you’re breaking them on purpose, not unknowingly.

Now that we’ve given you our suggestions for your perfect holiday table, do you have any tips and tricks you think would be helpful? Connect with us on Twitter or Facebook and let us know: @VisitYDH


Story by Katherine Ryalen

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