These are the 6 mistakes most people make when setting the Christmas table – here's how to avoid them

Something missing when you lay your Christmas dinner table? These experts share the most common table-setting mistakes and how to fix them

Christmas decorations with foliage and flowers, a table setting, fruits and glasses, a wood panelled room with a table and mismatched chairs.
(Image credit: Future)

When it comes to Christmas decorating, the dining table can prove the most tricky as you try to balance style with practicality. As a result, there are some common festive table-setting mistakes many of us are making every year. With less than a month to go until the big day, it's time to brush up on your table-setting skills before the Christmas dinner rolls around (and trust us, it will be here before you know it). 

If the thought of laying a table that's both functional and beautiful is enough to send you into a frenzy, don't worry - we get it. Whether you're cooking for your intimate family or hosting an entire party of guests, knowing how to set the table properly can be harder than you'd think. You'll want all the appropriate dinnerware laid out while leaving enough room to minimize the risk of spills, all while showcasing your beautiful festive tablescape. Getting it right makes cooking the Christmas dinner look easy. 

Although it might be difficult, executing the perfect Christmas table setting is worth the trouble. 'When it comes to formal dining and entertaining your guests in style there’s nothing quite like a formal dinner setting to impress,' says Andrea Waters, table stylist at Portmeirion. 'Although formal dining requires a little more effort in setting the table, and a few more etiquette rules to follow, believe me when I say it’s totally worth the few extra steps for sophisticated dining on Christmas day.'

If you want to avoid any table-setting mishaps this holiday, we've listed the most common mistakes and how to fix them, according to the experts.

Lilith headshot for bio
Lilith Hudson

Lilith is an expert at following news and trends across the world of interior design. She's committed to helping readers make the best choices in their homes through sharing practical tips and guides for all their DIY decor ideas. With Christmas just around the corner, she spoke with professional tabletop stylists to learn the most common table setting mistakes and how to avoid them.

1. Forgetting the candles

A dining table laid for Christmas dinner with red candles and Christmas decor

(Image credit: Truffle Tablescapes)

For any formal dinner, ambient lighting is a must. Whether you eat Christmas dinner at 1pm, 4pm or 9pm, a gentle and warm glow rather than a harsh overhead light can make all the difference. That's why candles are your best friend when it comes to setting the table. 

Of course, if you're eating in the evening you'll want to make sure you can actually see the plate in front of you, so don't just rely on candles. Use soft side lighting and floor lamps around your dining room to make sure the room is bright enough to be practical without being too stark. 

Two green tapered candles, Walmart 
Shine bright

Two green tapered candles, Walmart 

Create a soothing ambiance in your dining room with these green tapered candles from Walmart. Featuring a classic shape, these taper candles burn with a stunning glow and cast flickering shadows over your walls, while the yellow hue brings a class Christmas appeal to your space. We love the forest green color of this pair, fitting for the festive season. 

2. Not considering your line of sight

Sticking on the topic of candles, tapered candles in tall holders are the best way to add a festive glow to your dining table without interrupting the conversation between the two people sitting opposite one another. If you're worried about them falling over or setting light to your floral table center, opt for a row of tea lights instead. Pillar candles or elaborate candelabras will make your space look cluttered and prove especially tricky when it comes to passing around the roast potatoes. 

'One of the key mistakes made is blocking lines of sight - easy conversation is still the most important element of any meal,' says Kate Fairlie of TruffleTablescapes. 'Tapered candles are tall but slim so you can be liberal with these – they won’t stop people conversing across a table.'

3. Not embracing the festivities

Burgundy Christmas table setting with homemade wreath

(Image credit: Rebecca Udall)

Your novelty Christmas napkins only come out once a year, so don't forget to make use of them! It might sound like a big effort (and investment) to use Christmas themed dinnerware when setting the dinner table on December 25th, but festive plates, glassware and placemats can make all the difference to your dining experience. Not only does it look the part, but it shows guests you've gone the extra mile.

'We’d always suggest opting for at least eight pieces of everything in your perfect tableware set, budget permitting,' says Andrea at Portmeirion . 'An essential set usually consists of dinner plates, side plates, and bowls. This is pretty much three times the amount of an average household but also takes into consideration a slightly larger bunch. The idea is that you should always have enough crockery to accommodate some surprise guests and make sure you have spares while the rest of your tableware is in the dishwasher!'

If you don't own any Christmas servingware but still want to embrace the festive theme, turn to your Christmas table decor. Scatter pine cones and dried oranges on your table, as seen above, for a traditional idea, or use paper decorations and faux foliage for a more Scandi Christmas decor idea.  

'Making an impact is crucial and we think a table looks best when the tablescaper is generous with their décor,' says Kate. 'Your table will look best when busy and filled to the brim with festive accessories in seasonal colors. Don’t scrimp on those little touches – add pretty bows to napkins, handfuls of pinecones, bowls of seasonal fruit or Christmas décor from around the home to make your table filled with interesting (and fun!) details.'

Christmas dinnerware set, Wayfair
Festive feast

Christmas dinnerware set, Wayfair

This twelve-piece dinnerware set from Wayfair is sure to bring the festive theme to your table. The holiday china pattern as wreaths of holly around the circumference of the plates, with a wreath pictured on the mugs too. It's perfect for holiday entertaining, and an easy, economical way to add pieces to an existing Holiday collection.

3. Forgetting a centerpiece

There's more than just dinnerware involved when setting a table, there's decor too. Never was that more true than for the Christmas dinner table; after all, it's the decorative elements that make a Christmas table setting 'Christmassy'. While smaller details are important, it's the larger statements like the centerpiece that really steal the show. 

When it comes to how to decorate a Christmas table, a festive floral centerpiece helps tie your whole table together by creating a focal point on the table and adding some height to your display. 'Although very full, tall decorations look impressive, we either display these as guests arrive and remove prior to the meal, or to stick to smaller posies of flowers in bud vases and lower seasonal decorations which can be dotted down the center of your table,' says Kate. 

When styling a rectangular table, she recommends placing vases, candles and accessories in a formation down the center of the table. 'However with a round table, use one feature item (a larger vase would work for this) in the center of the table which you can then surround with candles, smaller décor and mini bud vases,' she says. 

4. Not protecting your table

A dining table laid for Christmas dinner with red and white themed decor

(Image credit: Truffle Tablescaping)

Hot plates and gravy spills are an inevitable part of Christmas meal times, but they don't have to pose a risk to your dining table as long as you have a tablecloth and placemats to protect it. With more plates (and probably more people) sitting around your dining table at Christmas, it's more important to take these measures to minimize damage from spills or burns. 

Besides their practical benefits, table runners and linen mats can make a beautiful addition to your Christmas tablescape, too. Opt for a traditional deep green or red for a timeless festive look, or use a more neutral backdrop for a subtler effect. 

'Remember to keep the shape and style of your table in mind,' says Kate. 'Tablecloths are available for round and rectangular tables; selecting the correct one will ensure it drapes beautifully over your table. Table runners are also a great alternative as they work on both round and rectangular tables.' 

She adds: 'Round placemats and charger plates are easier to use on round tables whereas any shape will work on rectangular tables.'

Red and white bordered table runner, Bed, Bath and Beyond
Yuletide tableclot...

Red and white bordered table runner, Bed, Bath and Beyond

Bring good tidings to your dinner table with this linen tablecloth from Bed, Bath and Beyond. The red table runner is outlined with a white border and is perfect for protecting your dining table from hot plates or pans. The cotton material will also introduce a soft texture to your table. 

5. Skipping napkins 

A dining table laid for Christmas dinner with blue and white themed decor

(Image credit: Truffle Tablescaping)

Just as every formal dinner should have napkins, so should your Christmas meal. Forgetting this addition to your table setting can also prove pretty awkward if guests accidentally spill their food - and let's face it, after several mulled wines, that's not an unlikely scenario. 

Both Kate and Andrea suggest resting the napkin on top of your plates when setting the table. Use napkin rings if you want them to look extra decorative.

Linen napkins, Lulu & Georgia
Linen napkins

Linen napkins, Lulu & Georgia

For a subtle hint to Christmas, try these red bordered linen napkins from Lulu & Georgia. We love the delicate natural quality of these linen napkins, the perfect addition to a Scandi tablescape this festive season. 

6. Not paying attention to the finishing touches

Overhead view of a table laid with colourful plates, Christmas baubles and lit candles.

(Image credit: Future)

Even if you're only sharing Christmas Day with your nearest and dearest, this isn't your standard mid-week dinner. The special finishing touches to your table setting help to make it the magical Christmas you deserve. 

'If hosting a formal gathering, especially of four or more people, I recommend setting your table in advance,' says Andrea. 'Adding special touches, such as place cards, is also recommended to add something extra your guests will remember.' Use decorative napkin rings and name-holder cards with a sprig of eucalyptus or rosemary on the plate for a detailed table setting that will give your guests a Christmas dinner to remember. 

Color & Trends Editor

Lilith Hudson is the Color & Trends Editor at Livingetc. Writing news, features, and explainers for our digital platform, she's the go-to person for all the latest micro-trends, interior hacks, and color inspiration you need in your home. Lilith discovered a love for lifestyle journalism during her BA in English and Philosophy at the University of Nottingham where she spent more time writing for her student magazine than she did studying. After graduating, she decided to take things a step further and now holds an MA in Magazine Journalism from City, University of London, with previous experience at the Saturday Times Magazine, Evening Standard, DJ Mag, and The Simple Things Magazine. At weekends you'll find her renovating a tiny one-up, one-down annex next to her Dad's holiday cottage in the Derbyshire dales where she applies all the latest design ideas she's picked up through the week.