Whether you're having a casual dinner with family or an elegant holiday event, decorating the Christmas table must carry the inspiration of the season. Avoid a hodgepodge of items and focus on a single theme for your table settings. Whether you choose a traditional presentation or a playful theme for a casual party, repeating key elements will tie the table-setting decor together.
Red and green, evergreen wreaths and quiet luxury are the hallmark of a traditional Christmas table. Focus on the rich colors of the season when preparing your table settings. In a brightly lit room, dark tablecloths in greens and reds are appropriate. To brighten the table, choose a crisp white cloth with a red or green runner down the center.
Use place mats to bring color to individual settings on an uncovered table. Plaids in traditional Christmas colors are festive without overpowering the room. Choose items with detailing such as tassels, embroidery or ribbon work around the edges.
A potted poinsettia is a fitting centerpiece. Or, bring a bit of the outdoors in: Surround a large pillar candle with an evergreen wreath, holly berries and pine cones. Line a large basket with evergreen boughs, fill with bright red apples and tie a ribbon around the handle.
The rich colors on the table require simple plates and dishware. White or cream tableware complements the linens and centerpiece without becoming overpowering. Save the color for individual place settings, especially the napkins. Choose napkins that contrast with your tablecloth choice--red napkins with a green tablecloth, for example. Or, highlight a color in a patterned cloth or mats. Gold napkins go well with plaid mats that feature a few gold threads woven into the design. Coil artificial holiday greenery to make napkin rings.
If you wish to move beyond traditional ideas this Christmas, focus on other colors of the season. Blue, white and silver are fitting for a winter table setting, and a few details make them Christmas-ready. Choose crisp white tablecloths as the backdrop to a winter theme. Use fabric paint and a snowflake stamp to decorate a light blue table runner. Silver tassels on the ends complete the winter look.
Silver candlesticks or etched glass votive holders complement the linens. Choose candle holders with evergreen tree or other holiday designs worked into them. Avoid large centerpieces; instead, opt for graceful lines, and cluster smaller pieces in the center or space them along the length of the table. Scatter blue glass Christmas tree balls around the centerpieces for a festive reminder of the occasion. Small urns filled with silver and blue Christmas balls are an option alone or in addition to candles.
Add color to your tableware. Rich blue plates--either plain or adorned with star or snowflake patterns--make your settings pop. If you're using plain white plates, place them on a blue place mat so they don't blend in with the table linens.
Choose solid-colored napkins with silver napkin rings. Purchase rings with ornaments attached or glue silver bells, snowflakes or other charms to existing napkin rings. Stamp napkins with snowflakes to complement your table runner if you have one.
For a casual event or one involving children, focus on the playful joy of the season. Choose white tablecloths with bright red place mats or runners. Flower designs or Christmas trees printed on the place mats and runner add to the festivity.
Continue the playful theme into your centerpieces. Place a basket of metallic, multicolored Christmas ball ornaments in the center of the table with a bright ribbon tied around the handle. Arrange candy canes with the blooms in flower centerpieces. Fill a clear glass vase with water and whole cranberries, then arrange peppermint carnations--white with red edges or spots--in the vase. Scatter Christmas-themed metallic confetti around the centerpieces or along the runner for eye-catching color.
Red and white striped napkins continue the theme and are reminiscent of candy canes. Or, use red napkins with striped peppermint circles as napkin rings. These circles are made from candy canes that are looped instead of hooked and are available at candy stores near Christmas. If these aren't available, use plain silver napkin rings with a candy cane placed between the napkin and the ring.