Ninety percent of Americans admit that they experience extra stress during the holidays. That’s more than 282 million people who are burning turkeys, having Black Friday-induced panic attacks and just generally freaking out during what all those carols being piped through department store sound systems claim is the “most wonderful time of the year.” Get stuck planning a big holiday party and you may feel even more anxious. It’s no wonder — most of us can’t even tell the difference between salad and dinner forks, so selecting stylish holiday decor is no easy feat. And nit-picking in-laws love to criticize everything from a creative cranberry sauce recipe to a single piece of water-spotted silverware.
We know trying to keep everyone jolly isn’t easy and we want to help you nix some of your seasonal stress by teaching you how to create the kind of holiday dining table that would make Martha Stewart (or just your uptight mother-in-law) proud.
Take a deep breath. We’re here to help. You’ve got this.
Begin With the Dining Table Basics
Setting the perfect holiday table is a lot like creating the perfect home — before you can start agonizing over the details, you need to lay a solid foundation. Squeeze 20 adults around a table built for twelve and everyone will be too busy dodging elbows to notice your Christmas dinnerware or Waterford crystal. So before you take care of anything else, check your guest list and ensure there’s ample room. Owning an expandable dining table can help.
When you own a table like this one, you can simply extend it and drop in a leaf (an additional section that comes with your table) to make room for other guests. Of course if you still don’t have enough room at your table, you can always add a kids’ table. Give your younger guests the same consideration as the adults and sit them at a table with lots of room — you’ll be rewarded with fewer fights from nudging and under-table kicking.
It goes without saying that you’ll need enough chairs for each guest, but what you should also take into consideration is the level of comfort you’re offering guests. For holiday feasts, look for high-backed chairs without arm rests. These will allow your guests to sit back comfortably while making sure no one has to wedge themselves into a seat — an act that’s even harder to accomplish with a belly full of pumpkin pie. If you’re used to uninvited guests dropping by, keep some padded folding chairs in your guest room, but add some comfy seat cushions if you’re using metal chairs to avoid the dreaded numb-butt.
Once you’ve created your foundation, it’s time to add to the decor — starting with the tablecloth. Getting through a holiday dinner without a single spill is scientifically impossible, so when it comes to table coverings, it’s best to double up. Place a waterproof tablecloth like this one on your table first, then cover it with the tablecloth of your choice. This way, you won’t have to worry about liquids destroying your hardwood. Can’t decide on a tablecloth design? Try a solid color in a deep hue like merlot or burgundy. It’ll serve as the backdrop and let the accents you add shine through.
Don’t Forget the Kids Dining Table
Let’s go back to the kids table for a moment. If you’re like most people, you had to put in some hard time at the kids table before you grew up and earned a spot sitting with the adults. If you expect more than eight guests and some of them are old enough to feed themselves but not old enough to drive, you may want to set up a separate table for kids. Just like hipsters, kids hate being called what they are — and the kids table is a smack in the face to tweens who think their burgeoning babysitting business means they’ve earned the right to be treated as intellectual equals. In short, you may face some resistance when you inform your youngest guests that they’ll be dining on plastic furniture. It’s easy enough to just ignore the eye-rolling, but being a champion host means catering to all of your guests — not just the oldest ones.
Believe it or not, it is possible to make kids excited about their seating arrangements. One great way to turn those frowns upside down is to seat children at a game table. Strictly for Kids makes a great table with a top that features a checkerboard (or a chess board if you’re entertaining prodigies) right in the middle of the tabletop.
If you need to make do with the same folding card table you use every year, make it a bit more fun by topping it with a paper tablecloth and a pack of crayons. You can even try out the Doodle by Stitch fabric tablecloth that comes with washable fabric markers and a graph-paper pattern. After the meal is over, just pop it in the washing machine and you’ll have a brand new canvas all ready for your next kid-friendly get-together.
These details may seem unnecessary, but remember, when your younger guests are having fun and getting along, you’ll spend less time breaking up fights and quelling tantrums and more time enjoying the party. In other words — happy kids make happy adults.
Table Setting and Decorative Plates
The most important part of creating your holiday party table may also be the hardest — choosing your china and customizing your table setting. Most of us don’t bother to lay out proper settings for every meal, and unless you spent your formative years at a finishing school, you may have some trouble sorting through all those different forks. Luckily, it’s a lot easier than it looks.
Begin by selecting the utensils, plates and glasses you’ll be using. If your grandmother willed you her heirloom set of silver utensils, now is the time to break them out. If you were lucky enough to receive a full set of formal decorative plates as a wedding gift, now is the time to use it. If you’re used to eating off of plastic and paper, however, you’ll definitely want to spring for some special decorative plates.
White or cream plates with gold embellishments are classic choices that never go out of style. If you’re trying to create a more modern look, select china that includes bands of deep, warm colors like cranberry and eggplant. And of course you can always try out some Christmas dinnerware or Thanksgiving plates. Though those with an eye for color may be able to pull off cerulean plates and bright green tablecloths, sticking with a palette of fall tones will make mixing and matching pieces much easier.
Once you’ve selected your dining ware, it’s time to create your table setting. This part of the process generally causes the most anxiety, but it’s pretty fool-proof as long as you follow these simple steps:
1. Begin with a placemat. This is a must if you aren’t using a tablecloth, but even if you are, it can be a great way to add color and texture. Try a beaded placemat or placemats with gold details.
2. Center dinner plates. Put the dinner plates you’ve chosen in the center of each placemat, or under charger plates that are in the center of each placemat. The edge of each dish should be about an inch away from the table’s edge.
3. Add the utensils. Place your knife on the right side of the plate, blade facing inward towards the plate. Then add your dessert spoon (the smaller one) and your soup spoon. The larger fork is the dinner fork and it goes on the left side of your plate, followed by the smaller salad fork. Like your plate, all of your utensils should be lined up about an inch away from the edge of the table.
4. Don’t forget your napkin. In a proper table setting, the napkin actually goes to the left of the salad fork, not under any of your utensils. For a holiday party you should always use cloth napkins, and since they won’t be hidden under silverware, you may want to choose a style with some delicate stitching or a festive pattern.
5. Set the salad plate. A smaller salad plate should be placed to the left of your napkin. If you’re crunched for space, you can place this plate directly on top of the dinner plate and remove it when guests move on to the main course.
6. Remember the bread plate. Place your small plate for bread and rolls above the forks. You can lay your butter knife across the top of this plate.
7. Finish by adding the glasses. Place a water glass above your knife and a wine glass above your soup spoon. If your holiday party features a more formal meal, you can set four total glasses and include special glasses for white, red and dessert wines.
Although they aren’t part of a formal setting, don’t forget to keep a set of coffee mugs and teacups waiting in the wings, along with a set of dessert plates. You’ll need these after your main course, but you don’t want them taking up real estate on your table during the meal.
Add a Dash of Holiday Decor
Now that you’ve got everything your guests will need to dig in and enjoy the feast, it’s time to give your table a little more life. There are three fun ways to do this:
A Table Runner. Table runners are a great way to add detail to plainer tablecloths. If you choose a tablecloth in a light color like cream or champagne, try offsetting it with a darker table runner like this cranberry-inspired table runner from Horchow. If you went for a darker tablecloth, brighten it up with a touch of gold. Cersei’s table runner with delicate golden beading is elegant without going overboard.
A Centerpiece. What table would be complete without a centerpiece? Consider the tone of your table before you choose yours. If you’ve opted for a formal table setting and luxurious linens, try a baroque floral centerpiece with full blooms and a golden vase. If your table is looking a bit more modern and casual, try a lower centerpiece that incorporates votives. When you decorate your dining table with a lower centerpiece, guests won’t have to dodge delphiniums to chat across the table.
Tiny Touches. Now that your table is technically “complete” you can relax and reward yourself by shopping for some fun, personal touches and holiday decor. Items like unique wine glass markers and holiday-themed salt and pepper shakers will give guests something to talk about while they’re waiting for the green bean casserole to be passed their way. Adding fun details to your table can make it feel warm and welcoming, but don’t go crazy — you don’t want your guests to feel like they’re excavating Christmas dinnerware from the set of a Hoarders episode.
Remember, as long as you spend it with the people you love, every holiday party is a success. So don’t let the stress of hosting your own ruin the fun. If you put your heart into it and try your best to show your guests a good time, they’ll be grateful for your efforts and who knows? They might even reward you with wine, pies and other presents. And if they poo-poo your cookie platter or hate on your handmade centerpiece, you can always give them the option of hosting next year’s holiday dinner at their place.
We hope the pointers we shared and the items we showcased helped you gain some holiday table inspiration. To create the perfect table for your next gathering, search for the table runner, holiday decor and other necessary additions to your seasonal spread on Find.com. At Find.com, we compare prices from sites all over the web, so you’re sure to get the best deal on every item.
Have any holiday table decorating tips that we didn’t cover here? Share your knowledge in the comments section below. If you have friends who are hosting holiday parties this year, please pass this article along them!