If you’re planning to set a fabulous table for Christmas dinner, start your design with your china, cutlery, glassware, linen and colour scheme.
Once you’ve sorted out your parameters, here are some standard ideas that may work for you:
- Tie the napkins with festive ribbon. (Or tinsel. Or ivy.) Or roll them into the loop of a fancy decoration.
- Put a sprig of holly (or pine or a flower) on each place.
- Scatter glass bowls filled with baubles along the length of the table. Or, if it’s standing room only once you add the cranberry sauce and the mustard and the walnuts and the shiraz and the water jug and the Christmas cake and the gingerbread house, hang baubles above the table.
- Fancy candlesticks.
- Add your favourite reindeer ornaments. (Or Santas. Or little Christmas trees.)
- Jam pack the table with big bowls of beautiful fruit, fancy bowls of nuts and lavish bowls of sweets.
- Base a floral centrepiece on conifers or holly.
- Bestrew the table with pinecones and whole spices (cinnamon sticks, star anise, nutmegs).
I’m planning white damask with my gold patterned china and whatever gold accoutrements I can get hold of (I’d like some gold bowls and I’ll make gold crackers) and pine branches scattered across the table. (Would it be too much to hang gold and green baubles above the table? Probably.)
Christmas Day 1970: Auntie Betty’s family got to the church shortly after us: they lived on a farm seven miles out of town so this was the first time we’d seen them that day so we bounced around excitedly and told each other Santa tales. My 13 year old cousin Caroline impressed the socks off me: she had got nail polish for Christmas – how grown up! (This was not her favourite gift: she was quite a tomboy and I think the present pleased the mother more than the daughter because Auntie Betty was afraid that a girl who wouldn’t wear dresses and whose favourite conversation topics were foot rot and fertilisers wouldn’t find a husband. (Caroline did end up happily married but I don’t think it was due to nail polish.)
 But not big Christmas trees, unless you’re actively trying to discourage conversation (which can be an appealing strategy in dysfunctional families).
 My friend Jenny told me a horror story of her mother-in-law deliberately decorating with pine boughs and unintentionally decorating with pine beetles which decided to emigrate at about the time the pudding came out, to the surprise and discomfort of the guests. (If they had been Christmas beetles, perhaps it would have been okay.)
 Is that a reason not to do it? No – not at Christmas.
 She ended up taking over the farm – to the relief of parents and her brother because Brian preferred fleecing customers to shearing sheep.