How-To & Diy

Building Your Holiday Centerpiece

November  4, 2014

Inspired by conversations on the Food52 Hotline, we're sharing tips and tricks that make navigating all of our kitchens easier and more fun.

Today: We're talking holiday centerpieces.

holiday centerpiece

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Decorating your holiday table doesn't have to mean spending your entire shopping budget on elaborate centerpieces or hand-stitching your own runner to show your guests you really care. This year, create a table arrangement that is fresh, festive, and simple. 

We're here to tell you that you can easily create beautiful table arrangements with a simple trip to the market -- or even your front stoop. Read on for our tips for easy -- but impressive -- holiday centerpieces.

You only need to follow a few rules. Most importantly? Keep things low. You don't want your guests craning their necks to see each other over a three-foot tall arrangement. Also, scented candles are a no-no. You want to impress your guests with the smells wafting from your kitchen, not confuse their senses with Crisp Linen or Blue Lagoon under their noses while they eat.

Think in clusters. Rather than placing one large centerpiece as the focus of your table, create a few clusters of beautiful objects along your table. This is especially useful if you have a long table, and will allow you more space than a single, large piece.

More: Stuck on that hand-stiched table runner? We've got you covered.

Gourds are great! Mix and match small, colorful gourds around tea lights and pinecones, acorns, or chestnuts for a simple yet impressive assortment on your table. Bonus points if you roast your chestnuts once the guests are gone. We love edible decorations!

Make the most of your market. Take your centerpiece a step further by thinking past gourds. Amanda loves cabbages in particular -- their leaves are beautiful, and you can often find them in a variety of sizes. Interspersed with other small fruits and vegetables, they create a lovely contrast of textures, shapes, and colors. Cranberries and acorns also look beautiful arranged in small bowls.

holiday centerpiece

Don't be afraid to forage. The leaves that your children have been collecting on the sidewalk can make beautiful arrangements. We love a simple bowl full of small pinecones: it's festive and balances out any colorful accents you may be adding to your table. And if you don't have small pinecones nearby, acorns, chestnuts, and dried flower buds are all great options. 

Color code your table. Sometimes, focusing on one color can have a great effect. Red is both seasonal and a bit dramatic, but use whatever colors inspire you.

Don't overshadow your food. You invited your guests over to eat, after all, not to gaze at table decorations. Make sure there's enough space on the table for serving dishes; trivets can even serve as decoration before the meal is served.

Centerpiece2 Centerpiece 1

Beware of small objects! When placing small objects on the table as part of an arrangement, be sure that no flower petals or miniature figurines will risk finding their way into your guests' soup course; that's what bread crumbs are for, after all.

Tea lights are your friends. To add some light to your table -- especially during the darker months -- swap out large candles for understated tea lights. Let them stand alone as part of a larger assortment, or place them in small votive holders. Tea lights will give your table a welcoming glow, and you won't have to worry about keeping the fire extinguisher close by.

Tell us: what are your tips for creating an easy, impressive holiday table?

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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Sharon Bond
    Sharon Bond
  • Tom Meyer
    Tom Meyer
  • pamelalee
  • Embrosia
Marian Bull

Written by: Marian Bull



Sharon B. November 24, 2013
Great ideas! Can you tell me, in the "red" photo, what that plant is next to the cranberries? It looks like some sort of thistle, but I've never seen any that color.
Embrosia March 8, 2014
The dried blooms are Gomphrena. An annual, easy to grow and to dry. Color is probably Strawberry Fields. Park Seed has it.
Tom M. December 23, 2012
who made those photographs? Nice.
pamelalee December 12, 2012
Cut the flowers off your poinsettia and hold the end of each stem over a flame for a few seconds. Now either float them in a lovely bowl (with other greenery from your garden and a floating candle) or arrange them in small vases. They last a long time! I also like to buy beautiful outdoor plants at the garden center (cyclamen, wintergreen, or small hellebore) and tuck them in cache pots.