The Holiday Table: Setting and Decorating

Jessica Barlow
Holiday Place Setting


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The holidays are full of family, friends and food, and as we gather together, even the table itself becomes an important part of the festivities. While rediscovering old ways and finding new ones to make this holiday special, consider the setting and decoration of your holiday table.

“Dinner parties ought to be fun,” says Roseanna Robinson, director of Home Entertaining and Dining for The Pfaltzgraff Co. “You have to be relaxed and enjoy it, or no one has a good time. Think of how much we do sitting around the table!” Planning ahead can make all the difference, says Robinson. She offers these tips for holiday entertaining:

  • Tablecloths are important. Use one. For a simple yet elegant touch, tie the corners with wire-reinforced ribbons, or drape garlands of colored or gold beads around the table.
  • Set the table with different holiday plates, no two alike. This makes a festive and colorful table and gets people talking. It’s a great icebreaker.
  • Keep centerpieces low. You don’t want your guests to look at each other through a jungle of greenery. If the florist gets carried away, put the arrangement on a buffet or side table.
  • A simple centerpiece is the best. For the fall, fill a ceramic bowl filled with orange squashes and harvest vegetables. For Christmas, fill a glass bowl with red ornaments for a stunning display.
  • Use a lot of candles. Set out assorted candlesticks of all shapes and sizes. Freezing candles for at least 2 hours helps keep the wax from dripping.
  • If you have a holiday collection—such as Santas, reindeer, or snowmen—you could include one at each place. Or, give each person a unique ornament as a little present to take home.
  • Plan your menu so it will work easily on one dinner-size plate. Avoid things that will run into everything else. If you’re serving a buffet, don’t include soup. Think through the meal ahead of time and make sure everything will look appealing on one plate.
  • Make sure you have a serving dish and serving utensil for everything on your menu. Make these easily accessible before you start cooking.
  • Set the table ahead of time, and figure out what will go where. Use sticky notes, if necessary, to plan positions for serving dishes.
  • Use place cards and put them at the center of each place setting. Write in bold letters. If you’re entertaining people who don’t know each other, put the name on the front and on the back of the card, so the person sitting across the table can read the name, too.
  • Seat couples together. Although party books will tell you to split them up, in today’s busy world, it can be a treat to sit down to a meal with your spouse next to you.
  • Don’t go overboard with desserts. Have a light one and, if you must, one drop-dead dessert. That’s plenty. Don’t make dessert the focus of the meal.
  • Always have fresh bread or rolls. If you have a good group of people and good bread and dessert, it doesn’t matter what happens with the rest of the meal. Always remember that getting together and sitting around the table rates above the food.

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