Set an elegant holiday table

CorrespondentDecember 7, 2012 

  • For a fancy fold A fancy-folded napkin adds a touch of style and an wow factor to your holiday table that you can sweetly shrug off when guests ask how you ever learned to do that. Sarah Mackiewicz, special events coordinator at A Southern Season in Chapel Hill, shared the secret to preparing fancy dinner napkins: Starch contributes to good, crisp folds and a napkin that holds its shape. Use a stylishly folded napkin as an underliner between a salad plate and a dinner plate to highlight the pattern of your dinnerware, or place it on top of the salad plate with a favor in the middle, such as a piece of chocolate. A folded napkin under a water pitcher will collect condensation and spare you a wet tablecloth. Correspondent Christopher E. Nelson

— Perhaps you’ve been to a holiday party or two already and have seen the host’s place settings featuring Santas, reindeer, snowflakes or other whimsical figures. A playful approach to holiday dinnerware has been the norm in recent years, A Southern Season’s Linwood Bradley tells us, particularly among people who have children or grandchildren.

But a little formality and sparkle may be called for: We’re celebrating the birth of Christians’ Savior or, during Hanukkah, Jews’ rededication of the Holy Temple, after all. Bradley, a visual merchandiser, recommended Vietri ware in crimson and gold to dress a table for Christmas, and in blue and silver for a Hanukkah dinner. Vietri is an Italian maker that exports its dinnerware to a company in nearby Hillsborough.

You could go crazy with place settings as extravagant as 18 pieces, but generally five pieces – charger, dinner plate, salad plate and glasses for red and white wine – are enough to indicate a serious sit-down dinner. (The white wine glass is often used for water.) In most cases, you’ll base the pieces you set your table with on the meal you are serving, says Sarah Mackiewicz, special events coordinator at A Southern Season.

Adding even a few upscale pieces to your everyday dinnerware creates a richer feel, . The plain white dinner plates used for the two holiday tables Bradley set for us were $5 pieces.

Mackiewicz suggests finding multiple uses for pieces you have rather than worry about adding more. “I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had dessert served in a champagne glass.”

If you don’t have or don’t want holiday-themed dinnerware, white plates on a red tablecloth with a wintry pattern (snowflakes, for example), says Christmas, and any blue-and-white or blue-and-silver combination works fine for Hanukkah.

You can probably find greenery for a centerpiece in your yard, and can add ribbons, bows or small ornaments if you aren’t fortunate enough to find a piece with berries (our centerpiece is artificial). Inexpensive cut flowers tucked into a napkin ring add another simple sensory touch to the table.

Another way to boost your dinner’s formality a notch is to print menus. Use linen paper and your home computer. Not only do printed menus look smart, but they also are a considerate way to subtly advise guests who may have dietary restrictions or preferences.

But don’t forgo the whimsy altogether. It is a celebration, after all. Party favors add to the fun. “The idea of having a take-away for your guests is a really neat thing to do,” Bradley says.

A Southern Season has seen the popularity of Christmas crackers surge in the last two years, Bradley says. The traditional British party favor contains a golden paper crown and a small gift similar to a Cracker Jack toy. The cracker is pulled from both ends and opens with a pop. They come in packs of six to eight in styles for Christmas or Hanukkah celebrations.

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