How to dress your table for Christmas meals – 7 steps for a show-stopping display

Tips to create a beautiful table set up for Christmas dinner, no matter your time constraints

How to dress your table for Christmas meals
(Image credit: Emma Lee)

Christmas dinner is perhaps the most anticipated part of Christmas – well, maybe apart from opening the presents – and dressing your table for this occasion can drastically elevate the whole dining experience.

From choosing the right table dressings and laying the table, to adding personal touches for each guest, this is a great opportunity to show off your decor skills and attention to detail.

Whether dressing your dining table is something you want to spend a while planning and executing, or something you only have a small portion of time on Christmas day to set up, we've got some tips to ensure you create a beautiful and cohesive festive table display.

How to dress your table for Christmas meals 

If you are hosting for the holidays or having an intimate family dinner, tablescaping this is the perfect, practical way to decorate for Christmas to make the day more memorable.

1. Choose a theme or color scheme

Red decor in Christmas dining room

(Image credit: Future)

Implementing recurrent themes is key to creating a cohesive tablescape. These can be used as the base of your table dressing or in smaller ways to tie different elements together.

Choose a style that resonates with your overall Christmas dining room decor and house style, whether it's traditional, modern, rustic, or eclectic.

Alternatively, you can opt for a color palette that compliments your existing Christmas decorations and dining room features. These don't necessarily have to be traditional Christmas colors. For example, a pastel palette – such as blush pinks and pale blues – can add a softer feel to your scheme. For a striking modern design, try using black and gold accents. 

You could also create a story with your table dressing by basing your styling of it around a holiday motif – such as winter wonderland or Santa's grotto, and base your color choices and decor style on what you imagine this concept to look like. Having a theme can help guide the rest of your choices.

2. Table linens

Table laid for dinner with lit candles, Christmas crackers and a large central lamp above.

(Image credit: Future)

Lay a beautiful tablecloth or runner as the foundation for your festive tablescape. Choose one that complements your overall theme. 

This can be a subtle option, perhaps one with a color and textured material, or a more stand-out option, such as one adorned with holiday patterns. 

If you know you will have limited space on your table for decor pieces (such as centerpieces or plant runners), then choosing a tablecloth pattern will ensure your table doesn't look under-dressed. However, if you want to add plenty of decor, then a more subtle design may be preferable to prevent the table from looking cluttered. 

'I am trying out a paper tablecloth this year and doodling the seating plan as well as painting around where everything is going to sit on the table,' says Hebe Hatton, Head of Interiors at Homes & Gardens. 'I'm no artist, but the great thing about this look is it needn't be perfect; it's meant to look creative and fun.

'I'll lay the table the morning before to give everything time to dry – plan out where everyone is going to sit and then lay the table with plates, crockery and the dishes I plan to have on the table so I get an idea of how much room I have for painting. Then, I will paint around the plates with various festive hues and shapes, adding people's names, too. The same goes for the dishes. And any obvious gaps I will fill with bows and stars.'

Headshot of Hebe Hatton Head of Interiors
Hebe Hatton

Hebe is Head of Interiors at Homes & Gardens. She has a background in lifestyle and interior journalism and a passion for renovating small spaces. You'll usually find her attempting DIY, whether it's spray painting her whole kitchen, or changing the wallpaper in her entryway. 

3. Build a centerpiece

Dining room with festive table


There's no right or wrong way to create a striking centerpiece. You can use Christmas plants (such as holly and mistletoe), a Christmas wreath, a decorative vase filled with wintery stems, a bowl of glittering ornaments, or a cozy candle arrangement.

Depending on your table's size, shape and dinnerware setting, there are a few ways to structure the layout of your centerpiece:  

  • You could have a decorative display in the very middle of your table. 
  • You could create one that runs along a table runner, such as a Christmas garland dotted with candles, berries, and complementary decorations scattered along the table's length.
  • You could have separate, smaller centerpieces spread along the length of the table that you can place food platters in-between.

'Most essential is to remember that a centerpiece needs to be low enough so your guests can speak,' says Kim Depole, interior designer at Depole Design. 'It's also best to consider one that is narrow so it can remain in place when you serve your dishes.'

4. Include soft light

Christmas dining table with tree in background

(Image credit: Birdie Fortescue)

The importance of lighting can't be stressed enough when it comes to creating a warm, welcoming atmosphere. Ensure the lighting is soft enough to create a cozy dining environment.

Select candle holders that match your theme, or choose candles sticks in Christmas colors with neutral candleholders. Use a variety of heights for visual interest and opt for unscented candles so they don't interfere with the aromas of the food.

Small twinkling string lights, such as these from Amazon, draped across the centerpiece, or bunched in a small glass vase, can also be a nice addition if you are uneasy about using naked candle flames.

5. Select your dining ware

Christmas dining table with red and white color scheme

(Image credit: Future)

'Make a list of all the dishes you will be serving on Christmas day,' advises Millie Hurst, Section Editor at Homes & Gardens. 'This will help you to pre-plan the placement and spacing of these items and ensure you have everything you need.'

Invest in elegant dinnerware, including plates, cutlery, glasses, placemats, and napkins that align with your theme without overwhelming the space. Opt for functional yet decorative serving platters and utensils. Consider mix-and-match styles for your dishes or a coordinated set that harmonizes with your theme. 

If you are not an expert at folding napkins, a festive napkin ring set, such as these, from West Elm, can add an extra touch of sophistication to your table. Alternatively, tying an elegant ribbon around your napkins can also be a nice touch.

Make sure each individual has glasses for their beverages, such as a water glass, champagne flute, and either a red or white wine glass. 

millie hurst news writer
Millie Hurst

Millie Hurst is Section Editor at Homes & Gardens, overseeing the Solved section, which provides readers with practical advice for their homes. Millie has written about and tried out countless cleaning and DIY hacks in the six years since she became a journalist, and has worked in both London and New York. 

6. Set the table

Red green and gold christmas table

(Image credit: Emma Lee)

To set a table follow these simple rules:  

  • Arrange cutlery in the order it will be used, from outside in. 
  • Place the dinner fork on the left side, closest to the plate. If you are having any smaller pre-dinner dishes, you can add a second smaller fork to the left.
  • Place the largest knife to the right, with the blade facing the plate. You can also add a smaller cheese knife – if a cheese course is on the menu. Set the spoon to the right of the knife.
  • Ensure all the utensils are parallel to each other and allow for equal spacing for each utensil.
  • Position the water glass above and slightly to the right of the knives.
  • Red wine glasses are typically placed to the right of the water glass, and the white wine to the right of that.
  • If you are using champagne flutes, place these to the right of the wine glasses. 
  • Only set the glasses that will be used to prevent the table from looking cluttered.

Feel free to adapt this layout depending on the formality of your occasion and your personal style.

7. Create personalized place settings

Overhead view of a table laid with colourful plates, Christmas baubles and lit candles. Festive table settings and cooked dishes at Christmas time

(Image credit: RE:FRESH (LAURA EDWARDS))

Personalize place settings with name cards or small ornaments with each persons name gently inscribed as placeholders.

'If you're feeling crafty, you can make your own Christmas crackers and fill them with  small gifts and a joke or riddle tailored to them,' suggests Millie Hurst. 'It's a great way to make Christmas dinner feel more personal.' 

Remember, when dressing your table for Christmas, it is most important to ensure there is enough space for serving dishes and condiments without cluttering the table. Prioritize the flow of conversation and leave plenty of space for the all-important food. 

Lola Houlton
News writer

Lola Houlton is a news writer for Homes & Gardens. She has been writing content for Future PLC for the past five years, in particular Homes & Gardens, Real Homes and GardeningEtc. She writes on a broad range of subjects, including recipe articles, reviewing products, writing ‘how to’ and ‘when to’ articles. Lola now writes about everything from organization through to house plants. Lola is a graduate student, who completed her degree in Psychology at the University of Sussex. She has also spent some time working at the BBC.