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How to Host the Best Holiday Dinner Party

Whether you want to go casual with a small gathering of family and friends, or have a formal holiday dinner party, here are some of the best practices when hosting a holiday party. With Christmas around the corner, now is the time to brush up on proper table setting etiquette and creative holiday decor ideas to ensure that you are the best host in town.


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Table-Setting How-To

Depending on your desired level of formality at your dinner party, there are certain rules to observe when setting your dinner table. As Christmas only happens once a year and is a special occasion, a more formal table is generally preferred over the traditional five-piece place setting. It is easy to understand the modern art of table setting by implementing a few basic ideas. Once you know the essentials that create a well-set table, you can either choose to apply them at your dinner or ignore them and do your own thing with confidence.  

First Course

Although many of us find proper table setting intimidating and daunting, table setting etiquette is generally based on logic. Flatware should align with the bottom rim of the large plate - or charger - which is removed once all guests have spread their napkin on their lap. It is generally a good idea to use festive napkin holders or napkin rings to work as added decoration for the holiday. Here are some fun ideas for Holiday place cards to set on the napkin for added flair.

  • A Dickensian Table: Create the ambience of a Victorian Christmas by using or making clever little place cards which resemble elegant paper scrolls that say the name of each guest. Place the scroll atop a holly sprig.
  • Use a cute Christmas tree ornament to place atop the napkin so your guests have a reminder of the lovely evening when they go home, and hang the ornament themselves.
  • Create a simple yet elegant napkin holder from gold string that is tied around the napkin, and adorned with two felt holly leaves and a single jingle bell.
  • Stay in theme of the holiday of by using bows to hold the napkin. Opt for red, green, or gold colors of napkins and bows. Bows are not only festive and remind guests of the season of giving and present time, but they are also quite chic right now, showing up on runways and in women’s apparel. Combine classic and current aesthetic appeal by adding bows to the table.
  • Cut out tree-shaped napkin rings from pretty holiday patterned paper or wrapping paper to create perfect seasonal rings that fit either casual or formal tables.

When your guests begin eating the meal, it is custom to first use the flatware at the outside left and right, working inward towards the plate as the meal proceeds. The forks go on the left side of the plate while spoons are on the right. Stemware is placed above and to the right side of the dinner plate. Bread-and-butter plates are set above the plate to the left-hand side. The water glass is set above the dinner knife, the white wine glass to its right and the red wine is placed top center.

Holiday Centerpiece Ideas

Once you have the dinner table properly set, dress it up with holiday inspired centerpieces to add festive cheer while your guests chat, eat, drink, and be merry.

  • Take a holiday dish or candle holder and place a tall taper candle in white or gold in the middle. Then, encircle the candle with poinsettia flowers for a natural pop of seasonal red.
  • Garnish the table with yuletide topiary and greenery. You can add ornaments to a min tree for extra Christmas decor fun.
  • Glittery candles are always festive during the holidays. If you do not own any or want to buy, it is very simple to coat plain candle wax in glitter paint.
  • Make a unique floral centerpiece by placing cranberries in a clear glass tumbler or vase, then stick a bouquet of white roses or flowers in the middle to create a perfectly pretty and elegant table accent.
  • Create your very own unique evergreen arrangement by making a “bouquet” of pine tree sprigs, pine cones, and other evergreen accents.
  • Vegetable and fruit baskets are always great seasonal touch for a table.

Coordinate Your Holiday Room Decor

When hosting a formal dinner party, a great way to tie the table settings in with your own room decor is to match the cloth napkins with curtains or a rug that is placed below the table. Depending on the colors in your surrounding textiles and upholstery for the room you are hosting in, different holiday decorations can make your existing furniture and decor pop. If you have oranges, yellows, or warm tones in your curtains, tapestries, or rugs, hanging a homemade citrus wreath is perfect for the season and will bring out the specific colors as highlights. If you have neutrals, rich brown, or greens on a rug or in your room, hanging lush greenery around or draping a doorway with greenery and pine cones adds both seasonal aroma, and can bring out specific colors in your room decor.  Plus natural decorations like pine wreaths and berry-accented greenery or garlands set the right holiday atmosphere and lend a woodsy, natural aroma.

Use Fabric Details

The living room and family room are generally the spaces meant for relaxation between family and friends. Create an inviting seasonal look that your guests will love and find cozy by layering a collection of fabrics and fabric-wrapped details. From velvet pillows in snow white, golds, greens, or reds, to throw blankets and fuzzy snowy rugs to keep feet warm, playing with different textiles and textures is effective. Lustrous hand knotted silk rugs also look perfect for a formal holiday party and help keep the ground insulated.