7 festive ways to spruce up your dinner table

Christmas table setting
Christmas table setting (Image credit: Shutterstock)

The holiday season is always filled with gatherings of loved ones, often around the dinner table. Festive classics and family recipes mean that the table is sure to be laden with delicious treats, but there’s something particularly magical about a dinner table specially decorated for the holidays. 

Even the smallest touch can make the environment feel more festive and celebratory, marking this meal as a special occasion. And when you’re not dining, many decorations can be left on the table for a bit of holiday cheer, no matter the time of day.

When it comes to decorating, everyone will have their own tastes but also their own needs. Families with younger children may want to stay away from tall objects that are easily knocked down or items that may be dangerous in excitable little hands, such as lit candles or glass ornaments. Other people may have pets that can’t be exposed to particular plants, or may be allergic to certain fabrics or items themselves. The good thing is that there are so many options to mix and match that you’re sure to be able to put together a beautiful dining scene.

Here are some of our favorite ways to spruce up a dining table for the holidays.

1. Winter floral centerpiece 

Winter Floral Centerpiece

Winter Floral Centerpiece (Image credit: Shutterstock)

A vase of flowers is a classic choice when decorating a dining table and it’s easily customizable to suit the holiday season. Consider using flowers in seasonal colors (reds, whites, deep yellows), or embrace winter evergreens and incorporate glossy dark foliage. Holly berries are a great way to acknowledge the festive period and add a pop of color, while pussy willow adds seasonal texture; the fuzzy catkins can be reminiscent of snow. 

You may even want to experiment a bit and add citrus fruits to your display, as these will give color, scent and festive flair to the table.

When designing your centerpieces, it’s a good idea to think about practicality as well as aesthetics. Tall displays are generally to be avoided, as they can block guests from being able to see each other across the table. However, there are lots of other ways to display a floral arrangement, such as a low vase or even several small containers spaced across the table. These will provide visual interest without obstructing the eyeline. 

You also want to think about the fragrance of your display, as very strong scents may clash or distract from the food. For dining spaces, the visual aspect of the flowers is more valuable than the smell.

2. Felt garland 

Felt Garland

Felt Garland (Image credit: Shutterstock)

Doubling up as both an activity and a decor item, felt garlands are an easy way to add color and texture to a dining space. You can buy them ready-made or make one from scratch in your chosen color palette, which is a great activity to do with young people. 

Generally consisting of interlocking bands of fabric, these garlands can be draped around the center of the table and function as a decorative base to candlesticks, vases etc. As they are made of fabric, there is no danger of small children breaking the garlands or hurting themselves, so they’re particularly well-suited for younger audiences. 

Garlands are also a good choice for people who enjoy multipurpose items, as they can be strung elsewhere in the home as well as around the dining table. They provide a soft contrast to all the metallics and shininess of holiday decorations and can be a more subtle decor choice, depending on the colors used. 

3. Seasonal linens 

Seasonal Linens

Seasonal Linens (Image credit: Shutterstock)

When people are setting the table for a special meal, they often use tablecloths or runners to help dress up the table. This is equally true during the holidays, so why not enhance the festive spirit by choosing linens in seasonal colors or prints?

There's a lot of room to play with here, so you can go with whichever linen best suits your personal aesthetic; while some people will want to embrace kitschy prints and bright colors, others may opt for a more simple look in a deep red or green. If you have a table set up for children, then a tablecloth made of wipeable material in a fun holiday design is a great way to balance function and form.

You can also build up a more complex tablescape by layering a tablecloth with any combination of runners, place mats and cloth napkins in complementary colors. This approach utilizes existing functional items but gives them a seasonal spin, to minimize excess clutter on the table. Depending on the colors and prints chosen, these items are also easy to repurpose for other occasions throughout the year.

4. Taper candles  

Taper Candles

Taper Candles (Image credit: Shutterstock)

There is something very glamorous and atmospheric about taper candles on a dinner table, especially in the colder, darker months. Not only are they an easy way to create ambience for a special occasion but they also flatter your guests – they say everyone looks good by candlelight. 

While classic white candles are always a good choice, today you can find candles in every color imaginable and even in interesting shapes, if you want to go for something more unique. The same is true for candlesticks, which have all sorts of designs available to suit every design preference. 

When choosing your candles, try to pick unscented options that won’t distract from the food. You’ll also want to place these candles in the center of the table, where there is a smaller risk of the flame catching someone’s hair or clothing. If you have younger guests joining the meal then you may not want to have an open flame within easy reach, but candles can still be mood-enhancing even when unlit. 

5. Gold silverware 

Gold Silverware

Gold Silverware (Image credit: Shutterstock)

Sometimes you don’t want to add a lot of extra items to the dinner table, especially if you know that it will be laden with different food dishes. The good news is that you don’t need to add decor to make the scene festive. Instead, you can simply swap your usual dining items for more seasonal styles. 

An easy way to do this is replacing silver cutlery with gold versions – and this small change has big impact. Gold silverware will look striking when placed in a simple table setting and also complement more complex dining scapes, so it’s great for any kind of taste. 

Gold is often associated with the holiday period but it’s not overtly festive, meaning that the silverware can be repurposed throughout the year for other special occasions. You also don’t need to compromise on function as it gets the job done just as well as other cutlery colors. This makes it a great option for anyone who doesn’t want to buy unnecessary knickknacks, but still values a festive atmosphere.

6. Holiday napkin holders 

Holiday Napkin Holders

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

If you’re using cloth napkins at your dinner table, then a holiday napkin holder is a great way to infuse your table with festive spirit without needing to buy new linens. They come in all kinds of styles to suit any taste, with popular options featuring sleek gold metal, faux greenery or snowflake designs. 

For younger guests, there are many fun choices that look like famous holiday characters, from Rudolph the Reindeer to the Nutcracker. As with the gold silverware, napkin holders perform a useful function at the dinner table as well as adding to the festive spirit, so they’re a nice way to balance performance and aesthetics.

As a general rule, most napkin holders should be compatible with most napkins. However, if you know you have particularly light or thick napkins, you may want to go for a holder that is adjustable in size. Some napkin holders have pieces that may cause a choking hazard for children, so also keep that in mind when making your selections. 

7. Decorative greenery 

Decorative Greenery

Decorative Greenery (Image credit: Shutterstock)

The winter period is not known for its lush foliage, but evergreen trees really come into their own at this time of year. Don’t limit yourself to a Christmas tree or a wreath – consider bringing more greenery into your home in the form of a garland or decorative branches. These can be draped around the center of the table, similar to a felt garland, or used in smaller arrangements in place of a floral centerpiece. 

Real greenery emits a lovely pine scent, while artificial greenery will stay looking good year after year, so there are no bad options. You can also decorate the greenery with small ornaments or lights, for a doubly festive look. Just be careful of the needles if using real greenery, as these can shed and be a pain to clean up, as well as creating a potential hazard for children and pets.

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Madeleine Streets

Madeleine Streets is a writer and content manager based in New York City. She covers an eclectic mix of lifestyle, technology, finance and health and has been published in Tom's Guide, Women's Wear Daily, SELF, Observer, Footwear News and others. Originally from London, Madeleine has a penchant for tea, baking and moody weather. When she’s not writing, you can find her exploring the city’s bookstores, hunting down new restaurants, fostering cats and cheering on Arsenal FC.