The Christmas table gaffes most often seen, and what to do instead.

December 5, 2021

For many people, Christmas will mark the first time they are setting the table for a holiday dinner party in quite some time.  But some decisions are key to guests’ comfort. A cornucopia that blocks sight lines across the table? A big no. Personal place cards to head off the confusion of seating arrangements? Absolutely. Here, we share the mistakes that can derail a holiday dinner party before the turkey even hits the table, plus recommendations for keeping your meal on track and your décor memorable.

There’s a fundamental conflict between what Christmas means and what it looks like.

The festive season often makes people lose their taste. Not for everything. We remain exacting on clothes, accessories and music. Yet lose our confidence around the home. People get the interior horrors, they are are so desperate for their homes to be perfect for the most festive day of the year, they try too hard, and everything ends up looking terrible. Read more, How To Set a Stunning Table.’

To create a festive feeling, we always think there is nothing more interesting than what you already own. Image via UK Elle Decoration.

1. Too Much of a Good Theme

The festive season often makes people lose their taste. They lose confidence around the home in their quest for everything to be perfect for the most festive day of the year. A table needn’t be covered in Santa-or-snowman-themed motifs and tinsel galore to make the day feel special. Holiday decorating should accent and complement the rest of your interior and not overpower and compete with it.

Too much theming can make even the best interiors look cheap and anyone who uses it looks like a bad events coordinator. Reckless festooning is just one of the common Yuletide décor gaffes that make designers cringe.

Instead: To create a festive feeling, go for quality and focus more on the season than the actual holiday, incorporating seasonal touches like holly, ivy, fir, and pomegranates.  We always think there is nothing more interesting than what you already own. Interweaving treasured objects and heirlooms into Christmas tablescapes is the recipe for a look that’s meaningful to you. Read more, ‘Time Tested Tips for a Stress-Free Christmas.’

2. Overcrowded Tables

A surplus of decorative objects will crowd the visitors. Don’t overwhelm the table, or your guests will be silently fighting for space. Read more, ‘The Last Minute Hostess: How To Fake The Perfect Holiday Party.’

Instead: Set out functional items you will need to accompany your meal first so you can see how much space.

3. Disposable Décor

A Christmas feast deserves better than paper plates. Going to the trouble of making such an important meal and then dishing it out on a flimsy plate is just sad. For the cook, the food and the guests.

Instead: You don’t need fine china to set a beautiful table. Start with white china and great glassware from a chain such as Ikea. A special tablecloth, candles and a single floral arrangement is far more special and doesn’t ravage the environment. One festive, affordable way to decorate is to add greenery and branches. Not only is it cheap and chic, but bringing the outdoors indoors feels natural, authentic and individual – a great antidote to the season’s consumerism. Simplicity and informality are much more stylish.

Sometimes it’s more sophisticated to have less decorations.

To knock back the preciousness of your china, try colourful plates with mismatched jugs and vases that homes accumulate over the years. Image via UK Elle Decoration.

4. Overly Precious Settings

While many of us have been waiting years to dust off our wedding china, don’t feel the need to use every teacup and dessert spoon. Tables that look too studied are offputting. Read more, ‘4 Secrets to Throwing The Perfect Holiday Party.’

Plates and glasses don’t need to match. It shouldn’t feel like you are eating in a restaurant.

Instead: To knock back the preciousness of your china, try colourful plates with mismatched jugs and vases that homes accumulate over the years.

5. Sky-High Centrepieces

Nothing is worse than a tablescape that is too tall for conversation. The usual culprit: tall floral arrangements.

Instead: Try a setting such as a low, linear garland or a row of bud vases down the table’s centre. It can be as simple as heading to your local market for simple berry branches or pomegranates in a bowl; or branches of spruce or fir mixed with Buxus, pinecones, and red apples teamed with simple bonbon at each setting or an urn filled with holly leaves.

6. Seating Miscalculations

A common mistake when hosting a meal is either trying to squeeze too many people around a table or spreading them too far apart. Read more, ‘The Politics Of The Dinner Party Seating Plan.’

Instead: If all guests are vaccinated, the relative intimacy of a happy medium is best. Ms Wilkinson suggests carving out 24 inches for each guest. “The placemats, decorative chargers, napkins and all utensils should fit within that footprint,” she said. Ms Downing Nadel cautions that if you’re combining tables, be sure they are the same height. Then choose table linens that will cover the seams, and layer a table runner across the entire length to create a cohesive surface.

7. Extraneous Scents

The only aromas coming from your holiday table should make your guests’ mouths water. Beware introducing overpowering scented candles which can be unappealing and trigger sneezing attacks.

The best scents are those that emanate naturally from a great meal cooking in the kitchen or a freshly cut Christmas tree.

Instead: Save such potent accessories for another area of your home. Their fragrance can be overpowering and distract from your holiday feast. Pick candles that are made with either soy or beeswax and a high concentration of essential oils that give off a natural scent of eucalyptus, pine, and cloves.

8. Christmas Decorations

Hand-painted ornaments are the way to go.

9. The wreath

It’s often the bigger the better – and it’s always natural, as if harvested fresh from your garden. Think holly, ivy, a dried mandarin or a gilded branch as if touched by one of the three wise men. Joyeux noel!

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