A Christmas table filled with candles and food

“Every nook and cranny was scrubbed and clean, all the windows had white, freshly starched curtains, there were candles in all the candlesticks and bright new mats in the kitchen, the copper pans were shining on the walls and the kitchen range was decorated with red and green tissue paper, as festive as Christmas itself.”

This lovely description from children’s author Astrid Lindgren captures the timeless magic of Christmas – when all the finery comes out, in ode to festive cheer. Styling your Christmas table is a décor moment where more is always more. Golden pools of candles, carafes of red wine, handfuls of eucalyptus and ivy: all come together in a chorus of merriment for gatherings of your loved ones. 

This is a time when you can let your inner creative roam free, with opulent touches such as linen napkins and heirloom cutlery adding layers of warmth and joy. If you’re not sure where to get started, we’ve got a few tips to share for creating a really special scene. 

Begin on a practical note

A Christmas table with food, candles and napkins

Serving up a Christmas meal can be a bit of a jigsaw, so start by thinking about the different kinds of plates, cutlery and glasses you’ll need – as well as bookmarking space for serving platters. You’ll want to decide at this point whether to bring everything to the table and encourage people to help themselves, or if there’ll be a separate space for a convivial buffet-style spread. Another option is to serve the show-stopping turkey from your kitchen worktop, then let guests help themselves to sides laid out on the dining table. 

I also like the idea of using a spare sideboard or a drinks trolley to create a DIY boozy/booze-free cocktail station. This saves you the hassle of going round everyone, and children and adults alike will enjoy the chance to add their own garnishes – like frozen berries or cinnamon sticks – that you can present in little bowls. It’ll add to the sense of occasion, and gets all your loved ones involved, too.

Experiment with fabrics

A beautiful tablecloth is an immediate way to elevate and add texture to your festive dining scene. It also provides a base from which to begin crafting a more intricate tablescape, setting the tone with warm, homely vibes. 

Many people will opt for a crisp white tablecloth but you could make your own by dyeing a bed sheet in hues of vintage-style French grey or russet red. Or you can order cut fabrics from suppliers such as The Cloth Shop or Merchant & Mills (we love this laundered linen check in rusty brown or a trio of autumnal checks, for tones that work year-round). Deeper colours are a braver choice but they can also be great for lending a sumptuous feel to your table. And you’ll be covered when it comes to red wine stains, too! 

Velvet ribbons are another way to layer on textural charm; you can use them to tie around bundles of cutlery, or as a bespoke element for crackers.  

Style up your place settings

A Christmas table place setting

Moving onto place settings, it’s a good idea to layer from the bottom up. Everyone will get a plate, of course, and from there you can add in other touches such as napkins tied with ribbons or a sprig of rosemary. Handwritten name cards are a heartfelt touch, and you can get little ones involved beforehand in “customising” these for each guest. Then it’s time for a few extra flourishes; with a hand-made paper rosette by each glass, for example, or a cracker perched above each place mat. 

Think about height

To create an elaborate Christmas table, it can help to add elements of height with various decorations – although take care not to block people’s view of one another. For instance, you can mix up candle holders, using a combination of statement candlesticks, angel chimes, glass bud vases, or even platefuls of glowing tea lights. 

The same goes for festive sprigs displayed in mini dry vases versus a generous bunch of mistletoe hung from the ceiling. Bowls filled with vivid leafy clementines, or rustic tin bell decorations are another nice touch for a lower layer, if you have the space. Get creative and don’t be afraid to mix things up; mismatched accessories are all part of the charm of things.

Forage for foliage

Wine, candles and tableware on a Christmas table

A Christmas Eve walk to forage table decorations is a really grounding way to start celebrations (especially for overexcited youngsters) – and it goes to show, you don’t have to spend lots of money to make things look great. Nature brings the most beautiful colour to a table, and will make it appear lush and vibrant. 

Feel free to be playful here! Winding strands of ivy are wonderfully atmospheric, and old man’s beard can double up as wispy puffs of snow. Sprigs of holly, pine cones, and conifer branches also go down a treat. Meanwhile, little snippets of thyme or sage can be scattered around place settings, and they smell delicious, too. 

You might also want to weave some walnuts, chocolate coins or dried fruit across your table. You can even use a pomegranate as a candlestick, too; just poke a thin tapered candle into the top. 

Let there be light

Where Christmas candles are concerned, you really can’t have enough on a festive table. Bring together a range of different sizes and colours for a magical glow and heaps of soulful ambiance. Save scented candles for another time; you want to be able to smell the delicious food roasting in the oven. Instead opt for simple beeswax or plant-based candles

Enjoy the fruits of your labour

Objects on a Christmas table

The sign of a good Christmas is the state of the dining table when everyone has gone home or is tucked up in bed. Lipstick-rimmed wine glasses, champagne corks, crumpled napkins, cracker snaps and candlesticks with wax dripping down them. They’re all part of the landscape of a dinner well-lived and relished by all. 

At the end of the night, if the feeling takes you, pour yourself one last glass of wine (or a herbal tea if your head is already feeling sore). Pop your favourite Christmas song on (George Michael, always) and do the bare minimum for a dash of order; stack glasses by the sink, put leftover cheese in the fridge, tablecloth and napkins in the washing machine, and the cutlery in a jug of boiling water, ready to load the dishwasher come morning. Then savour five minutes all to yourself before heading up to bed, to reflect on yet another year of joy-filled memories. 

November 22, 2022 — Alice Paling