Creating a fresh, stylish setting every year for a holiday meal can be a challenge. Here are some ideas for bringing this year's table together...

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Creating a fresh, stylish setting every year for a holiday meal can be a challenge. Here are some ideas for bringing this year’s table together:

Casual table

• Gather a selection of attractive fruits, such as persimmons, pears and quinces. Arrange the fruits in low wooden or ceramic bowls or place them on the table.

• Use walnut shells as salt and pepper cellars, setting out a pair for every three or four guests.

• Line the bread basket with a patterned napkin or cloth that complements the color scheme of the table.

• If a tablecloth is used, it should hang about 10 inches over the edge.

• For an intimate gathering, move the feast to the kitchen table.

• For a change of setting, serve dessert and coffee in the living room.

Formal table

• Use high-quality white or off-white linens. The tablecloth and napkins do not have to be a perfect color match, but the napkins should be identical. The tablecloth should hang about 10 to 15 inches over the edge.

• Make an attractive place marker or card for each place setting.

• Use silver trays for passing drinks and hors d’oeuvres.

• To add height and sparkle to the buffet, arrange biscuits on a tiered tea tray, and use footed cake pedestals to display desserts.

Glasses and flatware

Glassware: Simple, classic stemware is always an appropriate choice and works well for a formal or a casual meal. Setting the table with matching water glasses and wine glasses (the water goes in the larger glass) is an easy way to create a sense of elegance. Even an inexpensive set of glasses can bring a table setting together because its matching shapes and sizes create a sense of uniformity.

Flatware: Mixing and matching is a nice way to add a touch of homey charm, especially if you have an eclectic collection of vintage flatware. Good-quality stainless-steel flatware goes with virtually any setting.

Linens: For most settings, understated linens of high-quality cotton or linen are an excellent choice. To add color and interest, you can fold or tie each napkin and incorporate a decorative element, such as a spray of foliage that matches the centerpiece. Your tablecloth and napkins do not need to match, but their style and colors should complement each other.

Sources: “The Art of the Table” by Susanne von Drachenfels (Simon & Schuster, 2000) and “Thanksgiving Entertaining,” Williams-Sonoma (Free Press; 2005)