how to set a holiday table in 10 easy steps

Every year on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, my mom would get out her Spode Christmas dishes. They were fragile and thin and unique to Christmas with a gigantic tree in the center of the plate and beautifully wrapped gifts propped up underneath it. I loved eating off those plates. I hated the fact that they needed to be washed by hand and that I would end up with the dish towel. 

I remember lamenting to Mom, "Why do we have to use these on Christmas? It takes so much longer to get to play with toys when we have to do the dishes!" She whirled around and met my gaze and said evenly, "Some people show they care through what they cook and how they set the table. It will not kill you to dry some dishes."

Yes, ma'am. You are correct, ma'am. No, it will not kill me, ma'am. Please may I have a million dishes to dry now, ma'am?


I get now what Mom means. I get that, for some of us, dishes and food are our love languages. Dirty dishes, not so much. But dishes nonetheless. 

You can call us crazy. We already know you're thinking it. 

So in honor of my mother, who will undoubtedly whip out the Spode again this year, here's the quick and easy way to set your Christmas table. 

Well, any table really. 

Step one: Start with a table. 
This should be easy unless you've (a) recently moved and not yet unpacked, (b) are in college, or (c) yeah, there's really no other reason.

Step two: Put out the silverware. 
I once went to a supper where I was served soup and cornbread, but the only utensil on the table was a spoon. I wasn't sure how to eat the cornbread. With the spoon? Heaven forbid, with my fingers? I mean, I'm the girl who eats pizza with a knife and fork. I didn't know what to do, so I waited until my hosts ate it with their fingers and, closing my eyes to tune out my mother giving me the virtual stink eye even though she was hours away, I ate it. 

Spare your holiday guests the struggle, and just put all the silverware out. The forks go on the left, salad fork on the far left and dinner fork closest to the plate, and the knife (knives)--with the cutting edge toward the plate so you don't cut yourself and bleed all over that beautiful side of beef you're serving--and spoons go on the right, with the soup spoon to the far right, the teaspoon in the middle and the knife closest to the plate. 

If you have a fish fork or knife or a fruit spoon, well, brother, you're on your own. 

Step three: If you are serving something that requires butter, if you own butter knives, or if Paula Deen is coming to supper, put out a butter knife and plate. 
It goes to the top left of the plate. If, however, you don't own butter knives or your husband is a hungry farmer, you are off the hook. 

But just this one Christmas.
Step four: Salad plate time!
Unless, of course, you're not having salad. Then don't put out the plate. That would just be confusing. 

You have some options here. You can put it to the left of the plate, if your dinner plate is already full, or if you're serving in courses, you can put the salad plate on top of the dinner plate and then remove it when your guests are finished before proceeding to the next course, or (so many options), you can ditch the salad plate altogether and allow your guests to put their salad on the dinner plate. 

Unless they don't like their salad touching their other food. Then you all are just going to have to sort that out among yourselves. 



Step five : Put out your napkin. 
Or a paper towel. Or anything. Just be sure you give your guests something to wipe their salty, buttery, soupy fingers on that isn't (a) their jeans, (b) your dog's tongue, or (c) the bottom of your chair.

Here, too, you have options. You can fold the napkin and put it to the left of the forks. You can put it in between the utensils if you're serving the meal in courses and don't have a plate in position. You can fold it and put it under the forks. You can put it on a napkin ring. You can tuck it into your guests' shirts for them like a bib.

Just be sure if you do that last one that you're on pretty friendly terms or your holiday dinner could turn sour substantially more quickly. 

Step six: Get out the glasses. 
Depending on how many drinks you have going, you may feel like you're living in the crystal department at Macy's during dinner. (Watch those hand gestures while you're telling that hilarious story, you read me?)

Line up your water glass and your knives for starters. Then add your wine glass--red or white or both depending on how bad your Uncle Jack's jokes are--to the right of the water glass. And finally, add the glass for the opening toast to the right of that. Just remember: With glasses and with silverware, start on the outside and work in. Easy peasy. 

Step seven: Step back and see what you're missing. 
Do your guests have all the silverware they'll need? All the glasses? Room for salad? 
If so, please proceed to step eight. 

(Hey, you're good at this!)

Step eight: If you're serving coffee or tea after dinner, provide a coffee or tea cup and saucer.
Generally, it's good to wait until you've cleared the supper dishes and brought out the dessert plates and forks before you serve coffee. 

Also, because some of us have tables that don't fit eleventy-two glasses AND people to drink out of them. 

But whenever you choose to put or bring out the coffee/tea cups, they go above and to the right of the knife and spoons. 

Step nine: If your table has room, set out a pretty centerpiece. 
Don't be afraid to include height. 

Just not too much height. 

As in, if your two-year-old niece can't see you through all the shrubbery on the middle of the table, your flowers or plant might be too tall. 

Let's review. Napkins for dirty fingers. Check. Silverware so no one has to lick up the crumbs. Check. Glasses. Check. Plates. You're almost there. 


Step ten: Add pork and dairy to your table!
Who says you can't have milk with Christmas Eve supper? Who says? 
And who doesn't want a nice pork loin for Christmas lunch? Who? 

Ok, so your menu is still in the works, but your table doesn't have to be. So, scratch one worry off your list. Your holiday table is, quite literally, set! 

Tweet us pics of your holiday table at @adrianedorr and @farmerheins. 


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