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Your holiday table is more than just a collection of linens and dishes — it’s the place where families gather, and memories are made. “The holidays are a chance to

Rosemary and Goat Cheese Strata

Your holiday table is more than just a collection of linens and dishes — it’s the place where families gather, and memories are made. “The holidays are a chance to

5 Tips for Setting a Timeless Holiday Table

Your holiday table is more than just a collection of linens and dishes — it’s the place where families gather, and memories are made.

“The holidays are a chance to pause and reflect on the things that matter,” says interior designer Traci Zeller of Traci Zeller Interiors in Charlotte. “This is a good time to create some new traditions around what is most meaningful and special to you.”

Even if your holiday gatherings are smaller this year, setting a pretty table is a tradition worth upholding.

Savor the celebration

No matter the size of the celebration, your good china and heirloom serving pieces still deserve a place at the table. The stylish — and significant — pieces that have been collected over the years elevate the dining experience and make each bite feel extra special, which is especially important at a time when you might be missing out on other holiday traditions. “Setting a beautiful table is a small way to honor your holiday traditions,” Zeller says.


Mix old and new

Just as the holidays bring together loved ones across generations, the pieces on your table can be a mix of old and new.

The pieces you inherited from your grandmother and great aunt don’t have to match the china you received as a wedding gift. In fact, mixing and matching different styles and patterns is a more modern interpretation of the holiday table and the results can be beautiful.

“We’re no longer in the era of the matching china set,” Zeller says. “The rules have loosened; it’s all about making it personal and fun.”

Mix and match china for a modern holiday table. photograph by Replacements, Ltd.

Using the right linens can help make old and new pieces feel cohesive. Look for a color common to multiple patterns: Pieces with a whimsical woodland design, modern geometric pattern, and floral might all include shades of green; a solid colored green tablecloth and napkins would complement multiple designs. Zeller notes that adding matching chargers beneath the place settings is another option to help tie disparate patterns together. 


Invest in the essentials

When it comes to setting the table, there is no one-size-fits-all arrangement. Your guests will need plates, silverware, and glasses, but the rest is up to you.

Julie Robbins, product specialist for Greensboro-based Replacements, Ltd., the largest retailer of crystal, china and silver in the world, loves using covered dishes to keep the food warm and a serving platter to display the perfectly cooked turkey. Depending on the menu, a soup tureen, gravy boat, butter dish, and salt and pepper shakers may also be on your list of must-haves, but trust your instincts when it comes to setting your holiday table.

You can borrow the things you need or invest in new pieces: Now might be the perfect time to buy those crystal wineglasses or the silver tea service you covet. “It’s been a tough year,” Robbins says. “We all deserve a chance to clink the good china.”


Embrace your creativity

With fewer people around the table, you might not need larger pieces like a serving platter, covered dishes, or a soup tureen. But rather than leaving them in the sideboard until next year, Robbins suggests plating turkey and sides on the same platter and filling the soup tureen with gourds to serve as a centerpiece. “A soup tureen is a wonderful, big, overstated piece that makes an instant statement,” she says.

Using natural materials like evergreen boughs and colorful leaves help add a festive touch, and downloading personalized menus or attaching name cards to miniature pumpkins makes the place setting feel extra special.

Colorful leaves and other natural materials add a festive touch. photograph by Replacements, Ltd.


Share stories

The stories and memories that go along with each piece are often as beautiful as the patterns on your favorite china. Simply setting the table will call up memories of the grandmother who passed down her rose-colored Depression-era glass goblets; the trip abroad where you found a hand-painted serving platter in a dusty antiques shop; and the loved ones who gifted you a pair of crystal candlesticks on your wedding day.

“All of the heirloom pieces that you may not have a use for all year long come out during the holidays, and you can spark instant conversations around the table telling your guests where each piece came from,” Robbins says. “This is the year we have to cherish the bonds with those we’re closest to and our heirloom pieces can create that link when we can’t be together.”

This story was published on Nov 04, 2020

Jodi Helmer

North Carolina-based journalist Jodi Helmer writes about food, farming, and the environment.