Your Guide to Creating a Memorable Holiday Table

By Wendy Rose Gould | December 16, 2021

Creating a wow-inducing holiday table doesn’t just…happen. It’s something you’ve got to think through, from flatware to centerpiece. Though it does take some foresight, any effort you put into the process will pay off in spades. 

“A beautiful holiday table creates an inviting ambiance for guests and adds warmth to the home,” says Imane Fiocchi, founder of Neon Lace Company. “The holiday table is a reflection of the host, and it’s a chance to put your personal style and taste on display.”

She even suggests creating your holiday table early in the season, which will make you feel happy every time you see it! Then, when you have guests over, you can add finishing touches — like a fresh floral centerpiece or napkins. Whether you’re creating an inviting Thanksgiving table, a perfectly photogenic Christmas table, or planning around another holiday, these expert tips will ensure a holiday table that delights.

Be Authentic

Trends in fashion, décor and yes, even table settings, come and go, but tap into your own aesthetic sensibilities to create a holiday tablescape that feels authentic to you.  

“Your tablescape should be reflective of your own personal style and match the overall aesthetic of your home,” notes Russell Pinto Jr., founder of Little Red Bean Productions, a NYC-based event firm. “This will inherently set your guests at ease as they will feel more comfortable with a familiar vibe.”

You could even try borrowing items from other areas of your home and repurpose them for a unique and personalized holiday table. Think small décor objects, house plants, and hardcover books, all of which can be easily used as a part of your centerpiece. You could even find inspiration in your own backyard by foraging for greenery, flowers, stones and fallen branches or leaves. 

Bottom line: Don’t overthink it too much. Be yourself!

Create Dimension 

When crafting your holiday table, think about ways you can incorporate dimension through height, texture and color. This will create a cozy and inviting ambiance that just begs to be photographed! 

For example, you could try layering your linens. Fiocchi says, “Typically, I start with a vintage tablecloth or table runner, then add my centerpieces and finally, build out the dinnerware. You can also play with layering different colored linens to add visual interest to the table.” 

Creating a variety of heights is also a simple way to elevate your holiday table. This is easier to do than you may think! Fiocchi recommends placing few cereal bowls (upside down) at the center of your table, then adding a tablecloth on top. Cake stands also work.

Additional ways to create dimension include adding a pop of color to brighten the mood, or you can experiment with different napkin folding techniques for a personal touch. 

Add Some Mood Lighting 

Think about how some of your favorite restaurants set the mood with lighting. Even the smallest touches can add warmth and ambiance to a Thanksgiving table, Christmas table, or beyond. 

“Even the most epic tablescape will fall flat under the wrong lighting, and no one wants to indulge in a holiday feast under the judgmental glare of harsh overheads,” says Pinto. “Turn off or dim all the ceiling lighting, drag in a few extra lamps from other parts of the house, and generously scatter tea lights or votive candles on every available surface.” 

Mary Hollis Huddleston, event planner and entertainment journalist, agrees that candles are a must. 

“Candlelight is soft and elegant and makes everything, and everyone, look better. They’re also a great tool for filling in any holes on your table,” she says. “You can use low votives, taller candlesticks, or a combination of both on your table. Don’t forget to add candles elsewhere, like on your buffet (or wherever you’re serving food) and mantle.” 

Always go for unscented candles in case guests are sensitive to fragrance. This also ensures the candle scent doesn’t interfere with the inviting smell of the food you’re serving! 

Thoughtfully Accessorize 

Accessorizing your dining table for the holidays is another chance to let your personality shine. These personal table statements create conversations for your guests and can serve as great ice breakers. 

Pinto has some excellent suggestions above. Fiocchi says you could also try miniature ornaments, dreidels, faux snow, greenery, candles or vintage glassware.  

“I like to use bud vases filled with individual flowers when creating a floral arrangement,” Fiocchi adds. “This allows flexibility by either creating a full look or a more spread-out, airy vibe. It also makes it easier for guests who sit across from each other to see one another.”  

Prioritize Comfort 

Speaking of ease, the most important factor to consider when creating a beautiful holiday table: your guests’ comfort. Make sure that the table isn’t too crowded, and also consider what’s going beneath the table, too. 

“While regular dining chairs are probably just fine for most of your guests, consider the physical body types and mobility of those attending,” notes Pinto. “Your older guests will most likely be more comfortable in a seat with a back rather than a bench, and your guests with larger body types may be more comfortable in a seat without arms.” 

Adding cushions to the seats is another simple way to improve coziness and being mindful of where the table legs are in relation to the seats is important, as well. Also, make sure your guests are able to get up and move around easily versus being crammed into a corner or against a wall. Sound like a lot to manage? Just slip in and out of every chair once — ideally before you set the table itself. 

Don’t Forget About the Rest of the House 

Allow the energy you put into your holiday tablescape to expand out to the rest of your home. “The whole room should help set the mood, not just your table,” says Huddleston. “Tie mini wreaths or Christmas bells onto the back of your dining room chairs, add a wreath or greenery to the mirror above your buffet, and make sure the food table has some décor, as well.”

When in doubt, just tap back into your own personal aesthetic. And of course, don’t feel like you have to do everything on your own. Delegating tasks will help reduce your task load and ensure everything gets done beautifully. Consider hiring out a florist for centerpieces, a cleaning service for a tidy backdrop, and even a caterer to take care of some of the food. 

Wendy Rose Gould

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