Post by contributor Molly Kehrer
There’s plenty to think about in the holiday season — maybe more than any of us can fully embrace if we’re being completely honest.
It’s the most wonderful time of the year and so on… until it becomes the opposite when the physical plans and preparations for celebration overshadow the reason we’re celebrating in the first place.
Everyone’s situation is different, I know. Some pull out all of the stops and spare no expense, but many more of us are working hard to be fiscally responsible while still providing an experience that feels “set apart” for our families, friends and guests.
We know that the holidays aren’t really about the most expensive gift or the perfect, Martha Stewart décor, but we still desire for things to be lovely as we look to our traditions and beliefs and acknowledge the sacredness of the season.
It’s hard to ignore all the ads and marketing and Pinterest pins flying about at this time of year, but there’s no reason why we should feel like our celebrations are held to a certain standard — or what’s more — to a certain price tag, as we plan to welcome loved ones to our homes and tables.
Instead, and with a little creativity and inspiration, you can craft a setting that is both lovely and simple.
No need to spend and arm and a leg on your table decorations… all it really takes to make a table feel warm and festive is a little time, a little vision, and a little scavenging prowess.
Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue. This old wedding adage is the perfect mantra to get yourself in a holiday table-setting mindset. Here’s why:
This applies to both things that you’ve had for a long time and old things that you might find elsewhere on the cheap. Think thrift stores and the far back corner of your curio cabinet, linen closet, or Christmas decoration stash. Sometimes with the right tableware, something you inherited (and have stored but never actually used) becomes the perfect centerpiece for Christmas dinner.
In the red and green “traditional” table setting here, the centerpiece is an inherited celery vase that was originally an anniversary gifts to my in-laws from my husband’s grandparents. The red beads filling the vase were a great aunt’s Christmas decorations, and the silver foliage belonged to my grandmother.
Not only have I never used all three together before, but I’d never envisioned them as a centerpiece until I pulled out what I had and scavenged around the house a bit.
I love that this trio of items works well together, but more than that, I love that there’s meaning to the table because it’s decorated with a blend of items from both sides of our family.
When it comes to linens, your own closet is likely king. If you’ve decorated for the holidays at all before, or if you keep a tablecloth on your table year round, you probably have one that would dress up your table for dinner (or one that you can dress up with relative ease).
My husband and I have been married for eight years, so we’re not newlyweds but we’ve also not been accumulating items together for decades. Even still, I went to my linen closet to see what I had to dress a table, and the stack of fabric below is what I found.
You’ll notice that not all of the material is specific to a holiday…some cloths are white or neutral, others are chevron or printed, and a few (inherited mostly) lean more toward Christmas.
Regardless, I have no reason at all to shop for a tablecloth this year, and I love that! I keep this stack tucked in an accessible place so I can get to it year round—not packed away with Christmas decor where I can’t find it until the tree goes up.
‘Anything goes’ with creativity these days, so you never know when I’ll pull out the red and green tartan plaid for a picnic themed table in the summertime or a chevron pattern for a birthday dinner mid-year.
Something New (to you)
Of course there might be a filler item here or there that you need to complete the look of your table for a special meal. I love adding a little something new to my collection of holiday items and decorations each year, but I’m realizing that I don’t need to spend a fortune to find something I love.
Places like HomeGoods and TJ Maxx are made for this kind of thing, but so are end of the season sales once the holidays have come and gone. It doesn’t hurt to find a piece that’s 70% off on clearance as of January — it’ll look just as charming on your table next year!
I didn’t used to thrift at all, but I’m slowly seeing the merit and the art. It’s so grand to find something fun and functional to repurpose at a great price!
To set the three table settings in this post, I spent a total of under $4 this year.
I don’t know if thrifts stores offer coupons everywhere, or if it’s not terribly common, but where we live, a few stores in our area offer discounts in the coupon mailer that comes once a month. This time around, I nabbed a coupon for $6.50 off of a purchase of $10 or more—65% off thrift store prices for the win!
I found a beautiful set of eight napkin rings (pictured in the gold setting) that I will now use year round, the flowered tablecloth in the red and green setting, the red taper candles, and a few glass ornaments (that I didn’t end up using on a table but that I’ll repurpose as package decorations or a sweet new addition to our tree this year).
Not so shabby, right?
Among friends and family there’s sure to be enough variety to go around. Some of my very favorite accents on any table I’ve set have come from family.
This time around, I borrowed a few sets of napkins from my mother in law. Everyone has something just a little different from the next, and it’s fun to “shop” your friend’s linen closet for a fresh look for your table.
Vases, candle holders, candles, placemats, tablecloths, runners, coffee mugs, glassware, flatware, dishes, napkins, napkin rings, chargers, centerpieces, pitchers or carafes, salt and pepper shakers, and serving dishes are all items you might ask to swap or borrow to mix things up a bit.
Maybe your friends would be delighted to have something “new to them” grace their holiday tables this year, too!
It’s easy to think of Christmas and automatically set our minds on red and green, or to think of Hanukkah and envision metallic and blue, but what’s really on point these days is incorporating a color scheme you happen to love.
In other words, don’t be so married to traditional colors that you don’t feel like you can decorate outside of the box, because you can.
This year, I wanted to do something that felt cozy and outdoorsy, but a little vintage, too. I opted for a not-so-Christmassy-green table cloth, neural placemats and tableware, and micro-floral vintage napkins for the place settings.
I mixed in depression glass salad plates and glassware for texture, and then I went looking out of doors for something that would bring the outside, inside. I grabbed pinecones and a few branches from beneath some trees on public property down the block. Then I scooped up an evergreen branch that had fallen in our yard and cut it up for little sprigs to place around the table.
I stacked a few platters and a cloche in the center for height and color, and lastly, I added some sweet feathered friends to round out a bit of a woodsy, wintry feel. This table could certainly be set for Christmas, but it would also work for a warm and cozy gathering mid-January, when the snow is piling up mercilessly in the yard but a table full of friends and bowls of home made chili make everything right for the moment.
Don’t be afraid to use non-holiday items to dress up your holiday table, or to be bold with colors or patterns.
A solid, a floral and a stripe is a good, easy rule of thumb if you’re looking for a jumping off point, but really, the world of holiday table prep is your oyster.
One Last Notion
We all have our strong suits, and setting a table certainly does not need to be one of them.
If cooking up an amazing meal is your forte, or if gift wrapping is your thing, go get ‘em! And if your holidays are best served by a meal out on the town, or volunteering at a soup kitchen on Christmas Eve, your table will no doubt be beautiful for the people around it, no matter how much or how little you’ve decorated it to make it so.
These tips are intended to inspire if you’re seeking inspiration, but only that. They’re not to say that there aren’t 1,001 other things to do with your time and energy at this—or any, time of year.
If you do only one thing after reading this post, may it be this: invite someone around the table this year whom you’ve missed or who might be missing you. Add a chair to the celebration and invite a new friend or stranger to fill it.
Then, no matter how much food fills it up, or how perfectly pinned and planned out it might seem, your holiday table will radiate with the joy of the season in a way that no mighty celery vase can muster.
For more ideas: Eco-Friendly Holiday Decor in 5 Areas of Your Home
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I haven’t thought about decorating the table yet, but I did manage to whip up some stockings (something I’ve been meaning to do for a while) without spending any money…