Holiday dinner starts with the festive tablescape

The holiday guests have been invited. The multi-course menu is set. But have you considered the atmosphere?

MONCTON, N.B. The holiday guests have been invited. The multi-course menu is set. But have you considered the atmosphere?

From simple and elegant to classic and country, you can set the right tone for your holiday dinner by adding a little festive flair to your table with these simple and inexpensive ideas.

“Atmosphere is really important,” says Frederic Mazerolle, maitre d’ of the Windjammer restaurant.

“You want to create animation and render the night memorable so your Christmas dinner is really set for success.”

But you don’t have to spend a lot of money or even hire a caterer to create a stunning table. “I recommend using what you already have in your home,” he says. “We have it all. It’s just a matter of putting it together.”

For example, most of us have an excess of cups, saucers and dishes hidden in the back of our uppermost cupboards or in storage.

“Don’t underestimate the wine glasses or vintage dining ware passed down from your grandparents,” says Mazerolle. They can be used to creatively serve anything from canapes and cheese to late-night truffles. Or they can even become holders for tea lights attractively arranged in the shape of the table and set in the middle of the holiday spread.

Add further embellishment with leftover Christmas tree ornaments arranged in branches of pine freshly cut from a tree in your backyard or snip a few sprigs of German ivy from a houseplant and loosely place sections on the table. If you have cedar trees in your area, nip the ends to weave around candles. “Cutting won’t damage the plant or tree and they’ll last all evening,” says Mazerolle.

The backdrop to most holiday spreads is a Christmas-themed tablecloth. But if you have a crisp white linen tablecloth, it can look just as stunning paired with a bright red runner draped along the table’s edges, says Joanne Arseneault, floral designer at Terra Verde.

It’s also an economical choice.

“A runner can act as a placemat but is much less expensive,” she says.

You can add extra holiday cheer to your table with a set of Christmas dishes.

But if you’re on a budget, everyday white dishes can be dressed up by purchasing one serving piece in a Christmas colour or holiday pattern. “It’s all about mixing and matching what you already have and adding key pieces,” says Arseneault.

Another inexpensive technique to add drama to your table is to cleverly fold your napkins in stylish shapes and forms.

For example, you can elegantly display a napkin in a wineglass, says Connie Nicholson of Design Intervention.

Fold the napkin into a triangle, roll it and fold it in half. Stick the napkin in the wineglass so the bent edge is positioned at the bottom of the cup with the two points facing upwards.

If napkin folding isn’t your forte, you can use ornamental holders or rings. Simply open the napkin flat on the table, pinch the centre together and pull it through the holder or ring.

“You can sit the napkin on the bread and butter plate or in the centre of the plate facing the guest,” says Mazerolle.

You can find beautiful napkin ring sets at most home decor stores. But if you’re crafty, Nicholson says you can make your own using a stiff wire and beads found at most craft stores.

Place cards are yet another element you can use to add a personal touch to your table. But rather than using standard paper name cards, try one of these distinctive options. Nicholson suggests using a Christmas ball ornament. Add a personalized name card by wrapping a pipecleaner around the top of the ball where the hook would normally go and attach the name card onto the pipecleaner. Ensure the ball doesn’t roll off the table by placing it in a clear glass tea light holder to give the illusion of an ice cube.

Another unique idea is to attach a gift tag printed with each guest’s name to a small gift box. What’s inside is up to your imagination, says Mazerolle. It could be a present like a lottery ticket or simply a conversation-stimulating question such as “What part of the world would you most like to visit?”

If there will be children at the table you may want to add a decorative tin of candy canes, a basket of party crackers or a plate of gingerbread men the kids helped decorate, recommends Arseneault.

Finally, pull all the decorations together with a spectacular centrepiece. Here are a few festive ideas:

— Edible centrepiece: An edible centrepiece is both gorgeous and delicious, says Arseneault. Fill a decorative bowl with tempting Christmas fruit such as pomegranates, oranges and apples. Surround the bowl with a few shiny Christmas balls, pine cones and tea lights and you have a tasteful centrepiece.

— Fruit kebabs are another unique and fun option to set off your table. Arrange the kebabs in the shape of a tree by sticking the ends in floral moss covered in wide Christmas ribbon.

— Classic and contemporary: You can create an impressive centrepiece with leftover Christmas ball ornaments. Fill a decorative glass bowl with a variety of balls in different textures (matte, shiny, frosted or sparkly) and sizes in the same value tone of colour. Set the bowl on a glass mirror for added sparkle. You can have mirrors cut to your preferred shape and size or simply purchase a square mirror tile, says Nicholson.

— Christmas in the country: If you favour a more relaxed table setting, consider plaid. Choose a plaid runner with green, red and a thread of silver or gold. Add matching plaid napkins and pull it all together with a whimsical floral centrepiece made up of pine sprays and twigs, dogwood, poinsettias, a few Christmas balls and a plaid ribbon.

— Floral centrepiece: A floral arrangement is a traditional and elegant centrepiece. Prearranged centrepieces can be expensive, so why not arrange your own? Start by choosing an attractive and unique container such as a vase, metal pot, bowl, wine decanter, tea pot or water pitcher. Fill the vessel halfway with water and arrange a nest of cedar and pine greenery.

Take a selection of plants and insert them amongst the greenery ensuring any part of the plant touching water is wrapped in cellophane. Some great holiday plant choices are poinsettias, Christmas cactus or frosty fern. Arseneault’s top choice is amaryllis, which she describes as a huge spectacular flower that blooms in many colours, including red, white and a combination of the two.

“The arrangements will last past Christmas because they’re all plants,” says Arseneault. “But don’t forget to occasionally water them so they don’t dry out.”

If you prefer to have more flowers in your arrangement try a combination of funky lime-green spider mums, red Gerber daisies and white spider mums. You can also insert a few decorative pine cones using a wooden skewer.

Cut stems at different lengths to break up uniformity in the finished shape. “The shorter the flower is cut, the longer it will last,” adds Arseneault. Also, try arranging in groups. “There used to be a rule in floral design that no two flowers should touch. I don’t believe that. You’ll be pleasantly surprised how cute it looks when your flowers do touch. It’s like gardening. You plant in groups. Plant a garden in your vase.”

Although Arseneault loves to add tea lights to her holiday table along with her arrangements, she cautions against placing greenery and candles next to each together. “People forget greenery can quickly dry out and catch on fire,” she says. “I speak from experience.” A few Christmases ago, her husband had to run out their back door and throw an arrangement in a snow bank after the candles burned down and the greenery caught on fire.

— Fun, family holiday table: Snowmen are a popular theme for the holidays and a fun centrepiece for the family holiday meal, says Nicholson. Gather the kids and head to the craft store to purchase Styrofoam balls and all the accessories to make Frosty come alive including eyes, nose and buttons. Parents can put them together with a glue gun or straight pins. Add each child’s name to their snowman and display them on a mirror coated with white glass frosting spray to portray the look of ice.

Some hosts and hostesses are tempted to go with a theme when decorating the Christmas table, but Nicholson warns against this idea if you’re on a budget.

“It’s like anything in design, if you go with a theme you’ll probably want to do something different the following year because everyone’s seen it. It’s like wearing an outfit to a New Year’s Eve party. You don’t want to wear the same one next year because if it’s that beautiful, everyone will remember it.”

Although dressing up your holiday table takes some thoughtful planning, it’s worth the effort. It’s a fun and festive way to express your personality and create a memorable holiday dinner.