Simple Tips for Setting a Festive Holiday Table

Private chef and food writer Anna Watson Carl shares her top tips for setting an elegant holiday table with ease using twine, rosemary, cranberries, jars, votive candles and seasonal flowers.

Festive Holiday Table

Photo Credit: Anna Watson Carl 

Anna Watson Carl is a Brooklyn-based private chef, food writer, and a lover of dinner parties. She is author of The Yellow Table: A Celebration of Everyday Gatherings (Sterling, 2015) and writes the blog The Yellow Table opens in a new tab. Her work has been featured in a variety of publications, including Food & Wine, SAVEUR,, WSJ Magazine and 

One of my favorite things about throwing a dinner party is creating a pretty table. I love taking time to add thoughtful details — such as handwritten place cards, or sprigs of fresh herbs tied into the napkins — that make guests feel really special. Since I’m usually the one making the food, I never have time to do anything elaborate. I like to keep things simple, seasonal, and elegant, without being fussy.

Here are a few simple, creative ideas for setting your own holiday table:

  • In lieu of a tablecloth, use a pretty runner. I like this elegant, hand-crocheted runner (pictured above) because it lets the natural grain of the wood table peep through. 

  • When it comes to tableware and glassware, simple is the name of the game. I love using all-white plates so the food can really shine. I’m also a minimalist with stainless steel cutlery and basic wine and water glasses. I prefer to let the color and design come from the other table elements.

  • Try rolling up napkins with twine, and tying on mini luggage tags with everyone’s name written on them. For a seasonal touch, I love tucking in springs of fresh herbs such as thyme or rosemary into each napkin. Not only does it look pretty, but it smells fantastic.

  • For centerpieces, I love using mason jars (or even empty tin cans with the labels removed) to create little seasonal floral arrangements. Green and white flowers are my favorite over the holidays: I like using white roses with sprigs of green berries and simple greenery.

  • For an inexpensive — and really pretty — alternative to flowers, place some fresh cranberries in the bottom of several small mason jars. Place a votive candle in each. The twinkling lights and the pop of color from the cranberries make a festive addition to a holiday table.

Flowers and a Napkin Wrapped with Twine

Photo Credit: Anna Watson Carl 

I hope these easy ideas inspire you to throw your own dinner party over the holidays, and to take the time to create a pretty table. Most of the elements I use — twine, rosemary, cranberries, jars, votive candles, seasonal flowers — are things you can find around your house, or purchase inexpensively. But don’t stress over any of this: At the end of the day, it’s who’s around your table that matters most!

How do you decorate your holiday table? Let me know in the comments below. 

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