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How to set the perfect table for the Holidays

  • by harmati home

The holiday season is right around the corner, and if you’re like many people, you’ll have a few hosting plans to look forward to. Whether you’re hosting Thanksgiving dinner, Christmas breakfast, or anything in between, having the perfect tablescape is a great way to elevate the experience. Your guests will sense the time and care that went into their space at the table, and you’ll have a beautiful memory to look back on.

With that in mind, let’s take a closer look at how to set an unforgettable holiday table.

  • Decide Formal vs. Casual Place Settings 

The very first step to setting your holiday table is deciding the level of formality you’d like your place settings to have. If you’re not too concerned with having a full, formal place setting, you can stick to the basics and only set out the items you’ll definitely be using. If you do want to go formal, you’ll need a bit more space on the table, and you’ll need to have bonus pieces like bread plates and both white and red wine glasses.

This is also the time to confirm RSVPs with your guests so that you have a firm headcount. As you’re deciding on the china you’d like to use for each place setting, make sure you have enough for the full guest list to have a matching set. If not, look into purchasing the extras or going with a different set. 

  • Pick a Theme or Color Scheme

Next, you’ll want to pick a theme or color scheme for the night. This choice will dictate many other choices about the design, so it’s important to decide early so that everything can be cohesive. Here are just a few common themes or color schemes to consider:

  • Silver and white
  • Red and gold
  • Natural materials 
  • Mismatched prints
  • Monochrome 
  • Jewel tones
  • Creamy neutrals
  • Mixed metals

Any of these choices will lead to a beautiful table setting for your guests. 

  • Align the Place Setting with Your Dishes

Once you’ve decided on your level of formality and your color scheme, it’s time to decide exactly which elements need to go on your table.

If you’re choosing a formal place setting, here’s what you’ll need to set the table:

  • Bread plate
  • Butter knife
  • Napkin
  • Salad fork
  • Dinner fork
  • Charger
  • Soup bowl
  • Soup spoon
  • Dinner knife
  • Water glass
  • Red wine glass
  • White wine glass
  • Dessert spoon

Note that you may want to quickly remind guests about how to navigate their place setting when they arrive. Formal place settings can be disarming for people who don’t experience them often, and a simple reminder about where to start or which fork to use can help put people at ease. 

If you’re choosing a more casual place setting, you get to choose what you include and what you don’t include. Just make sure you have everything you need for the meal you’re serving—don’t forget a bowl and spoon if you’re serving soup or a smaller plate and fork for dessert. Include wine glasses at the adult seats if you’re serving wine. 

  • Nail the Details

There are countless details involved in a table setting—especially a holiday table setting. Here are just a few of the small touches to consider including on your table. 

Table Runners

Table runners set the foundation for your table, and they’re a great opportunity to lean into your theme or color scheme. There are tons of table runners on the market, so you’re sure to find one in every color, pattern, or texture desirable. Choose your table runner early so you have an idea of what your table’s base will look like as you move onto other details. 

Festive Napkins

Napkins are a must for any dinner party, and cloth napkins go a long way towards establishing a more special, formal feel for the evening. If you want to take your table one step further, look for festive cloth napkins that align with the holiday you’re celebrating. Your guests will love them! 

Napkin Rings

Napkin rings are another tiny detail that often goes overlooked. While you don’t need a napkin ring depending on how you choose to set your table, it’s a beautiful touch for napkins that will rest on top of the rest of the place setting. Again, there are countless options on the market, so choose one that offers a nod to your color scheme. 

Holiday Cards or Gifts

Since this is a holiday dinner, consider having a small gift or holiday card for each guest. You might consider wrapping a tiny present and leaving it on top of the place setting, or even using holiday greeting cards as place cards that indicate to each guest where they’ll be sitting. Plus, this is a great way to keep guests occupied at the table as you wrap up final details for the food. 

Place Cards

If you don’t choose to use holiday cards as place cards, you’ll want to consider having traditional place cards on the table to show each guest where they’re supposed to be seated. 

Steamed Linens

If you have a traditional tablecloth, go the extra mile and steam your linens before setting the table. You’ll easily get rid of the creases that would otherwise show up on the table and add a bit of extra elegance to the experience. Tablecloth creases can also create an unstable surface for water glasses and any other precarious items in your table setting, so steaming them out is a win, win for your dinner.

Beautiful Chargers

Last but not least, chargers (the large “under” plate in formal place settings) can really take your table to the next level, whether you’re doing a full, formal place setting or not. You can find traditional chargers that look like extra-large white plates or opt for a fun option that brings some personality to the table. A popular choice this year is wood chargers, which work especially well for earthy, natural themes. Note that chargers are just decorative, so they won’t actually be used as a plate throughout the meal. 

  • Choose Your Centerpieces

Next on the list is choosing your centerpieces! Centerpieces are the perfect touch to make the table feel complete. There are a few key decisions you’ll have to make about centerpieces. 

The first is how many centerpieces you’d like to have on the table. For large groups, having one large centerpiece in the middle of the table can leave the rest of the space feeling a bit bare. Many people opt for several smaller centerpieces instead, spreading them evenly throughout the table. 

The next thing to consider is the size of the centerpieces. This is a detail that often goes overlooked until the party is underway, but large centerpieces can actually block people’s view of the other guests and inhibit conversation. It’s a good rule of thumb to take a quick seat in each of the guest chairs to make sure it’ll be easy to chat with others nearby without feeling trapped by the centerpiece.

Last but not least, you’ll want to decide whether your centerpieces will be flowers or something else entirely. This choice may depend a bit on your table’s theme and color scheme. Fresh flowers are a beautiful touch if you decide to go that route, but many other options also work well. For woodsy-themed tablescapes, a cloche of pinecones is a wonderful choice. Other common options include arrangements of fruit or even small groups of candles. 

The choice is yours—just keep in mind that your centerpieces should accent the table rather than stealing the show entirely. 

  • Add Mood Lighting

Speaking of candles, mood lighting is the final touch to really bring your table to life. Harsh overhead lighting has an everyday feel and can put a damper on the party. Instead, dim overhead lights if you have that option in your home, and opt for lamps and candles instead. If you’re concerned about having a live flame on the table, you can also use fake candles to bring a warm glow without the fire hazard. 

  • Start Early

Last but not least, remember to always set the table ahead of time. It’s easy to get wrapped up in party prep and save endless details for the final few hours leading up to the party, but unless you really need to use your table before the party, you can set the table the night before—or even earlier, if you’d like to get it out of the way. 

As a bonus, this is a great way to protect against last-minute disasters, like realizing you’re missing a place setting or breaking a glass. But more importantly, it allows you to focus on the meal itself in the hours before guests arrive. Save yourself the hassle and do as much ahead of time as you can. 



There you have it! Hopefully, this blog post gives you everything you need to know to set the perfect holiday table for your next gathering. We hope you enjoy a special night with loved ones at your beautiful table! 


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