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Setting the Table for the Holidays

Whether hosting an intimate Christmas dinner for two, a Thanksgiving family gathering, a Diwali feast or Halloween party for 40, enhance the holiday dining experience with tablescaping ideas that wow. Setting the table for the holidays can be as simple or as ornate as you choose. With the many tabletop tools and accessories we have available at west elm, tablescaping is simply enjoyable. There are many easy ways to create a holiday table setting so stunning that it might upstage the food!


Any great work of art begins with a blank canvas. For table settings, the canvas is either a bare tabletop or tablecloth. White, cream or other solid color tablecloths are ideal foundations for building a holiday tablescape. However, feel free to experiment with different holiday prints, textures and other table coverings. Contrast is key. If you do decide to use prints, look to solid dinnerware to provide contrast. Layer table coverings in different colors to create a festive look ideal for Kwanzaa or Diwali.


For a classic Christmas table setting, design a tablescape around a holiday centerpiece. When it comes to making a centerpiece, three is the magic number. Select items in groups of threes, such as three candles, hurricanes or miniature Christmas trees. The items can be the same size or one larger piece flanked by two smaller ones. With the hurricanes, arrange them in the center of the table with smaller hurricanes flanking the larger one. Fill hurricanes with real or faux pinecones, cranberries or tiny branches of pine needles. Lay garland, pinecones, holly or poinsettia leaves at the base of the hurricanes. If having a formal sit-down dinner add place card holders to take the guesswork out of seating arrangements. Place card holders can also be used to identify foods by cuisine or as vegan or vegetarian.


Bring new twists to old traditions. Consider a jewel-toned or soft seascape shade of blue to complement the traditional Hanukkah blue and white. Incorporate these colors with accent pieces, such as chargers, napkin rings or goblets. Go glam with a table set for a fashionista. Choose jewel-toned table linens, dinnerware and glassware. Instead of garland, arrange sparking beads about the table. Try to always include a clever surprise for guests, such as covering a charger with elegant gift wrapping and ribbon. Incorporate luxe items you have around the house, such as pearls, custom jewelry or anything that sparkles. Make place settings interesting by altering the color or finish of the dishes. A shimmering pink salad plate sparkles even more on an emerald green charger.


When setting a buffet table, address traffic flow and accessibility before decorating the table. Once youʼve established the best place for your buffet, try a mock layout for serveware. Often overlooked, the wall immediately behind a buffet can serve to reinforce any holiday theme. For example, hang Christmas-themed wall art featuring botanicals. Wreaths of various sizes make for a dramatic backdrop to a simple, elegant tablescape. Mount a web of spiders and other creepy crawlers as a backdrop for Halloween. A catering secret for buffets is to stack books, hat boxes and other items under table coverings to create tiers for displaying food. Experiment with several shapes and heights until you get the look you want. If possible, create a separate buffet area for desserts and coffee.


To create a table setting that feels natural or organic, incorporate fruits, plants and flowers found locally. Start with a centerpiece made with fresh fruit. Use a sharp knife to cut a thin slit into pears, apples, pomegranates or miniature pumpkins and use to hold name cards. Choose natural woven fabrics for tablecloth or napkins or cut strips of burlap to tie around festive napkins to bring a rustic look to a traditional setting.


Add finishing touches to wow guests. After dinner, serve dessert on holiday-themed plates with tiny gift-wrapped chocolates or cookies. A hot toddy or marshmallow-topped cup of cocoa tastes even better from a Santa mug. How about a light Pinot Noir corked with a dreidel wine topper? The key is to make sure the dinnerware, tablecloths and accessories reflect the mood you want to convey to your guests. Whether casual with a side of whimsy or ornate and formal, spread holiday cheer with a tablescape theyʼll remember for years.

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