Style a Memorable Holiday Table

Young family enjoying holiday dinner at home.

Even if you’re not hosting or attending a dinner with extended family and friends, there’s no reason you shouldn’t pull out all the stops for meals over the holidays. A beautiful table setting elevates your mood, enhances the appearance of the food, and sets the tone for an enjoyable meal.

Setting a beautiful table doesn’t necessarily mean shopping for supplies or spending a lot of money. By using what you have on hand, or can gather on a nature walk, you can create a show stopping table setting that will make family mealtimes over the holidays a little more special.

If your holidays could use a little extra sparkle—and whose couldn’t this year?—keep reading for some great holiday table décor ideas and virtual ways to include extended family in your “stay home for the holidays” holiday meals.

Table set for festive holiday breakfast.
Table set for festive holiday breakfast.

Rise and Shine (With a Little Extra Shine)
For some, Christmas breakfast is almost as big a deal as Christmas dinner, while others start the day with a handful of cookies and a cup of coffee. Whatever your style, there are ways to elevate Christmas breakfast and maybe even start a new tradition or two in the process.

If a sit-down breakfast is your thing, adorn the table with sparkly baubles borrowed from the tree, bowls of oranges and shiny red apples, springs of greenery, and small wrapped gifts or Christmas crackers. If you have red and white picnic linens that you tucked away at the end of summer, now’s the time to bring them out, or cover the table with wrapping paper or kraft paper for something different.

Those that are not into sitting down for breakfast can still get into the spirit by filling the coffee table with plates of warm pastries, mini quiche, cut up fruit and other bite size treats, and setting up a festive coffee/hot chocolate bar on a side board or bar cart nearby, jazzed up with battery operated twinkling lights and tinsel.

Set Up for The Big Event
You might have a full set of elegant matching dishes and serving pieces, or a collection of mix and match items that you’ve gathered along the way. Whichever it is, go ahead and use it all to create a table setting that reflects your style and shows your family how important they are to you.

For that immediate wow factor when you sit down, layer up dinner plates, lunch plates, salad plates, and bowls—whatever you’ve got. The same goes for cutlery and glassware; if there’s a positive side to having fewer people at the table, there will be room for it. Make sure that each place setting has a napkin, a place card if you’re feeling extra, and a special decoration that ties into the main theme of the table. If Christmas crackers are a tradition in your house, add those too. (Find easy instructions to make your own crackers here.)

Be sure to keep the centerpiece low, especially in spots where family members are sitting across from each other, or if passing dishes across the table is a possibility. If you’re stuck on what to use for a centerpiece, look for decorative or meaningful items around the home that can be incorporated into your table décor, and remember to think outside the box—there’s not much that can’t be “holidayfied” with a bow or curl of ribbon.

Don’t forget—before there was Martha Stewart, there was Mother Nature. If you’re not feeling what you’re finding inside the house, head to the great outdoors (aka the backyard) for easy decorating ideas and supplies like pinecones, twigs, and evergreen boughs. If the cedars need trimming, “borrow” a few pieces for your table—the flatter varieties make terrific natural placemats or look great peeking out from under serving platters.

Rustic table setting with pine sprigs and twig votive candle holder.
Hands tying a sprig of rosemary into a wreath to be used as table decor.
Rustic table setting with pine sprigs and twig votive candle holder.
Hands tying a sprig of rosemary into a wreath to be used as table decor.

If you’re feeling a little crafty, here are two super-simple ideas that even the most glue gun-shy can pull off with pro results.

Twig Votive Holder: Cut several thin twigs to length, then attach with twine around a votive cups or short juice glasses to make simple, rustic candle holders. (Tip: use a length of scotch tape to hold the twigs in place; remove after wrapping with twine.)

Mini Wreath: To make an easy, natural decoration for each place setting, shape a single sprig of greenery into a wreath and tie off with a piece of ribbon or twine. If you don’t have an evergreen in your yard, add an extra bunch of fresh rosemary or thyme to your grocery order.

Bring family to the Table
If you are spending the holidays apart from family, find creative ways to bring them to the table. A miniature tree or vase of gathered branches can be adorned with cardstock tags bearing the names or pictures of everyone you are missing, or you can set up a display of treasured family photos and mementos on a sideboard or small table in the room.

You can also use your menu to bring family into your celebrations. Instead of browsing Pinterest for ideas, think about family members and the dishes you associate with them. Then, as you start to do your menu planning and list-making, reach out for their recipes and cooking tips. As you sit down to dinner, the familiar smells and tastes will remind you of all your special people and the moments you’ve spent with them.

Many families are also considering adding Zoom calls or video chat into their celebrations to stay connected. If you have several people on your list, consider making short calls throughout the meal and asking them to participate in some way—having your uncle make a toast, for example—or filming a short video that can be shared to everyone at once.

Lastly, don’t forget to dress up! If there’s ever a time to change out of your sweatpants, it’s for a holiday dinner. We know that this holiday might not big the big, boisterous celebration that you’ve had in previous years, but it’s the perfect opportunity to scale-back, simplify, and make the most of what you’ve got. So, set a fancy table and put on something equally fabulous—you deserve a little sparkle.