CHRISTMAS

TIME TESTED TIPS FOR A STRESS-FREE CHRISTMAS

It doesn't have to be the craziest time of year.

December 18, 2019

Don’t let Christmas creep up on you. Try not to leave everything to a last-minute rush on Christmas eve. Start early and write lists of what you need to save you going in blind and buying more than you need. Use what you have – just make it look good. The presentation is everything. 

There’s a fundamental conflict between what Christmas means and what it looks like. The festive season often makes people lose their taste. Not for everything. We remain exacting on clothes, accessories and music. Yet lose our confidence around the home. People get the interior horrors, they are are so desperate for their homes to be perfect for the most festive day of the year, they try too hard, and everything ends up looking terrible. They do things on a whim. Buy things they don’t need in a quest for things to be harmonious yet exciting, celebratory but peaceful – which are impossible demands even before they’ve started shopping, decorating or entertaining. Read more, ‘Essential Christmas: A Last-Minute Checklist.’

The Christmas aesthetic goes against every aesthetic of art and design.

Even at its most tasteful – giant snowflakes and fairylights at the apex of style – it’s evanescent. It’s a season, within a season. The Twelfth night is when it all gets chucked out. The first design principle of our homes meanwhile almost always has longevity as its first principle. Whatever your style, you want things built to last, that are well made. It’s not because Christmas is garish that it jangles our senses, it’s because it is disposable, and all that goes with that: kitsch, tinny, lightweight. 

So are you having a bogan or posh Christmas? Discover the do’s and don’ts of decorations, food, and décor for 2019 festivities and our time-tested tips for a stress-free day.

Christmas at Melissa Penfold’s where she uses nature to channel the seasons. Photography by Blake Heywood. 

DO USE WHAT YOU HAVE

We always think there is nothing more interesting than what you already own. Interweaving treasured objects and heirlooms into Christmas tablescapes is the recipe for a look that’s meaningful to you.

YOU DON’T NEED TO SPEND ANYTHING 

Christmas spending can quickly get out of control. One festive, affordable way to decorate is to add greenery and branches. Not only is it cheap and chic, but bringing the outdoors indoors feels natural, authentic and individual – a great antidote to the season’s consumerism. Read more, ‘The Broke Person’s Guide to Getting Christmas Ready.’

COMMON AREAS

To make sure you get the most bang for your holiday buck, focus your decorative efforts in the common rooms that get the most traffic. The entry, dining room, living area and kitchen. We keep it simple and informal with lots of generous piles of vegetables, herbs, leaves, and branches. 

DO USE NATURE TO CHANNEL THE SEASON

Turns out adding a festive touch can be as simple as heading to your local market for simple berry branches or pomegranates in a bowl. Plus branches of spruce or fir mixed with Buxus, pinecones, and red apples.

Christmas at Melissa’s place where she mixes food, florals and foliage for a no-fuss centrepiece. Photography by Blake Heywood.

THE DINING TABLE

Similar to a wall garland, we love fir, spruce or any greenery used on the dining table instead of floral bouquets; mixed with candle votives and tapers for a no-fuss centrepiece.

DON’T TRY TOO HARD 

Simplicity and informality are much more stylish. Sometimes it’s more sophisticated to have less. Use a low centrepiece. Place a bowl of big silver baubles in the middle of your table with a simple bonbon at each setting or an urn filled with holly leaves or huge, perfect apples.

DO FOCUS ON A COUPLE OF THINGS

If you want your decorations to look a million dollars, all you have to do is focus your energy on your door and your tree. They are the main things people notice. You don’t need loads of expensive, elaborate baubles, just lots of them for a luxury look; and stick to two or three hues. 

CANDLELIGHT

Candlelight is taking centre stage on the dining table this year, with vignettes of candlesticks and hurricanes grouped en masse in varying heights. Mixed with greenery, it’s a great look, that you can use all year-round. Read more, ‘The Most Decadent Christmas Candle Brand And How To Take Care Of Them.’

Christmas at Melissa Penfold’s home where she sticks to two or three hues for maximum impact. Gio dinnerware by Wedgwood, www.wedgwood.com.au Photography by Blake Heywood.

DON’T FORGET THE ENTRY

It sets the stage and vibe for the whole day. Go for a huge, festive arrangement of holly, or spruce.

DO SAVE TIME AND BE EFFICIENT

The luxury of hosting Christmas at home is having the freedom to set your table in advance. Lay the tablecloth, set the plates and align the cutlery the day before so you can focus on the flowers and focus on the decor on the day of your event. If you are preparing the food for a small group of people, serve hors-d’oeuvres that you simply assemble rather than cook and make (or buy) your puddings ahead of time. Read more, ‘Why Christmas Is All About Food.’

Gleaming glasses add instant glamour. Line them up on trays. As for food, keep it simple, but make it look beautiful. 

DO RELAX 

Everything is going to be alright.  You’re going to hit your marks and serve your Christmas feast, and everyone’s going to ohh and ahh and eat like they’ve never seen food before. (Delicious, by the way.) Things might go wrong, and you’ll laugh and recover.  Cranberry sauce and a good gravy can cover a multitude of sins. It’s Christmas. Enjoy it all. Read more, ‘Get The Party Started; How To Be The Perfect Host.’

DON’T BE RUDE 

When someone starts talking politics, conspiracy theories, or when your aunt ramps up with the crazy. Do nothing. You are not going to change anyone’s mind at Christmas, not about anything. Just smile and listen, then ask for seconds, for thirds, and clear the table when it’s all done.

Don’t prosecute. Don’t inveigh. Just listen.

Later you can scream into a pillow — but by then, having done as we suggest, you won’t want to. You’ll be chuckling instead.

Christmas at Melissa Penfold’s house 2019. Gio Wedgwood plates, www.wedgwood.com.au Photography by Blake Heywood.

GIFTS: THE ‘FOUR PRESENT RULE’

Where do you draw the line with gifts…? Piles of gifts, so quintessential to Christmas, have a lot of emotional freight. Are they right, are they wasteful, does anyone need more stuff? Save time and money this Christmas with the ‘four present rule’ which sees parents gift their children a maximum of four presents: something they want, need, wear and read. Read more, ‘Gift-Giving Tips From The Experts.’

BUY AN ADVENT CALENDAR

Demand for varied advent calendar has exploded in recent years, and retailers are offering more and more eccentric ones. This year, Tiffany & Co, Jo Malone London and Aldi have released advent calendars. Gin and wine calendars are also extremely popular now. It’s not too late to grab one, and have some fun.  

DO LIMIT YOUR TIME IN THE KITCHEN

Pre-prepare as much food as possible. Make the main course, and buy the rest. Keep things simple and abundant. The higher quality the ingredients, the less you have to do. Think prawns followed by turkey and ham which are always a classic choice. We love trifles and pavlova, too. There is nothing wrong with cheating – as long as your shop bought food is stunning. The French have been doing it for decades. We always buy our puddings, which are better than anything we could possibly make. So stylish, so easy to serve and far better than sweating over something complicated. Avoid glazed doughnuts at all costs.

Serving lunch from 1pm allows for three servings of pavlova throughout the afternoon. 

DITCH THE TINSEL

Tinsel remains a big no-no: it makes even the best interiors look cheap and anyone who uses it look like a bad event’s coordinator. Go for quality. A decade ago, most of us bought traditional round baubles. Now, we want individuality, quality and character in our Christmas decorations – a change that has been driven by a growing culture of entertaining, Instagram and innovation. A green tree, with good quality decorations and coloured or white lights will always look good. 

DO SHOP SMART TO PREVENT OVERBUYING

Embrace the shopping list, write a gift list and a meal plan and overlap ingredients where possible. Christmas is a time to indulge and the chocolates are sure to be out, so look for supermarket brands that you might not usually use which go further. 

DO LOOK FOR DEALS

There’s a lot of pre-Christmas sales worth investigating, and you can take the extra steps to find the best deals. There are specialised websites that offer sale tips, and apps that will alert you to deals in your geographic area.

DON’T PEEL ANYTHING

Just add plenty of herbs, garlic, drizzled oil, and honey mixed in with your vegetables and no one will notice anything.

GIVE EVERY INGREDIENT A SECOND LIFE

Christmas leftovers make great roasted vegetable soup, hearty curries, and turkey pies, served with a poached egg or pasta and vegetable bakes topped with cheese. Perfect New Year’s fuel. Buy as local as possible. Read more, ‘Dreading Christmas? Ham It Up With Peter Rowland.’

Keep things simple and abundant. The higher quality the ingredients, the less you have to do such as Melissa does at her house for Christmas. Photography by Blake Heywood.

DON’T USE OPPRESSIVE PERFUMES

Beware introducing overpowering scented candles which can be unappealing and trigger sneezing attacks. Pick ones that are made with either soy or beeswax and a high concentration of essential oils that give off a natural scent.

DO’S AND DON’TS FOR THE CHRISTMAS PARTY SEASON

Do give a small Christmas gift to your neighbours. Do be kind when you open your gifts this year. Never say “this isn’t my kind of thing” when you open a present – even if it clearly isn’t. Showing your displeasure at a present is plain, bad manners. Do keep your shoes on all night at Christmas parties. Don’t walk the streets or dance barefeet. Don’t host a Christmas party without telling (or inviting) the neighbours. Do post your Christmas cards. Do give homemade Christmas presents. Do wear Christmas earrings on the last day of the working year.

Don’t get dreadfully drunk at the office Christmas party.

EVERY ROOM FEELS BETTER WITH WARM LIGHT

For a romantic vibe this Christmas, instead of lighting up your house with too-blue bulbs, think warmth. Many people unknowingly buy LED lights without considering the temperature of the bulbs. White blue-hued LED lights not only create a cold feeling, they are often hard on the eyes. Choose lights that cast a warm light.

CHRISTMAS PLAYLIST

There’s nothing quite like those uplifting, festive carols to transform your home – after all, music is one of the essentials of entertaining. We recommend Spotify’s most popular playlist, Christmas Pop, featuring classics performed by some of our fave artists including Michael Buble, Justin Bieber, Katy Perry, and Ariana Grande. 

There is nothing wrong with cheating – as long as your shop bought food is stunning. The French have been doing it for decades. We always buy our desserts and puddings such as Flour and Stone’s famous chocolate, raspberry and buttermilk cake, flourandstone.com.au

NO, COLD HOUSES

Interiors are as much about ‘feel,’ as ‘looks’. Keep yours warm, and welcoming this Christmas. Look in cupboards, and layer up with lovely throw rugs. Bring out baskets, and fill with greenery to add instant comfort, so guests don’t want to leave.

SAME, SAME, SAME 

A big mistake people make is using the same Christmas and holiday decorations on rote repetition each year. After a while folk feel burned out because it becomes a chore. Try using the same decorations in new ways. Use your Christmas tree in different settings. Move your tree to the entry, or take two chairs out of the dining room and allow the tree to flank a fireplace.

When we moved our tree to a different corner of our entry this year, it achieved a totally different look.

DO A QUICK REFRESH

This is a great thing that makes your house look like a million dollars every day of the holidays. It only takes a few minutes to make a room look better. Doing a few minutes of housekeeping daily, is enough to “reset” your rooms to a neutral position over the holidays, if you’re doing a lot of living in them. It prevents your pad from getting out of hand. Whether you’ve got guests coming over and forgot to clean, or you just want a fresher-looking interior because you deserve one, you can make a surprisingly big impact with just five minutes. 

MAKE YOUR HOME SMELL AMAZING

Try a mood boosting room spray for the holidays with fresh-smelling scents that instantly freshen rooms. Read more, ‘The Most Decadent Christmas Candle Brand And How To Take Care Of Them.’

DO STRAIGHTEN THINGS 

We’re not sure what people do in their homes that makes every chair, book and table askew, but just the simple act of aligning things back to where they belong can instantly bring order and calm to a room. Go around the house, and readjust furniture, ottomans, stools that aren’t where they go. Realign any tables (especially your coffee table) that have been nudged out of a place. Line up stacks of books or magazines neatly. Straighten crooked art pieces. Lamp shades, too. These easy ‘straightening’ movement will give a ‘feel’ and ‘look’ of order to your spaces.

DON’T GO TOO BIG 

Small humble moments can be equally as effective as grand gestures. Instead of going over the top with huge decorations that take days to put up (and take down post-holiday), opt for a couple of quiet ways to deck your halls. A bunch of fir, spruce or pile of apples from the garden – or park – makes a simple, affordable table decoration, and take seconds.

DO SERVE CHRISTMAS DRINKS WITH A VISUAL PUNCH

Nothing makes people more relaxed than a generous glass of something when they arrive. Hit your guests with a grand gesture in a glass.

Try jugs of Campari, generous slugs of gin-and-tonic or, of course, good champagne or prosecco. Limit the choice.

THE BAR

The second most congregated area of a home during a party? The bar cart, of course. Nothing makes people more relaxed than a generous glass of something when they arrive on Christmas day. Stock up your bar trolley or drinks table (even a table pushed against the wall) and line it up with row upon row of tonic water bottles, tomato juice, and several back-up bottles of spirits. It gives a generous welcoming atmosphere, and when family arrive you are ready for them. Drinks tables and bar carts are a showpiece that add instant holiday glamour to any space, big or small. They’re extremely functional for entertaining guests and look festive.

BRING THAT FESTIVE CHEER INTO THE KITCHEN

Pile up the kitchen table or benchtop with an abundance of something natural, however humble. Put lots of red apples in a beautiful bowl, a frilly lettuce in an urn, and an inexpensive bunch of kale or spinach in a vase, for a look that is festive and chic.

BREAK DECLUTTERING RULES

We often argue about things like junk drawers and overflowing baskets, but when you’ve only got five minutes, ignore those rules and start tossing clutter into hidden spots as quickly as you can. But only if you promise yourself to declutter those areas when you’ve got more than five minutes to spare.

PICK UP DUST OR DIRT

It might be your kitchen benchtop, coffee table or timber floor in the living room that attracts everything – use whatever tools you have at hand (even if it’s your hands) to quickly remove the largest and most visible items. A quick swipe of a tabletop that catches the light. Yes, a full cleaning would, of course, make the entire room look great, but a quick refresh before guests arrive is about keeping up the look of a clean home in between regular cleanings

YOUR CRACKERS SAY A LOT ABOUT YOU

Cheap crackers, cheap party. They speak of your values, and whether you know and appreciate good things.

Upgrade your cracker-game and don’t disappoint your guests.

IF YOU ARE LOOKING FOR UNUSUAL GIFTS

It might be helpful to peruse our guide: 10 Christmas Gifts You Won’t Have Thought Of

IF YOU ARE HOSTING

This year’s Christmas, it might be helpful to review our guide on How to Better at Parties This Season

IF YOU ARE ON A BUDGET

This year, you might like to read – The Broke Person’s Guide to Getting Christmas Ready

LET IN MORE LIGHT DURING THE DAY, DIM THE LIGHTS AT NIGHT

Throw open the windows, the doors, and roll up every blind to bring as much natural light as possible during the day. Though that might seem to shed more light on a less-than-pristine interior, when you’ve got great natural light flooding inside, everything just seems fresher. At night, do the opposite. Turn off overhead lights and create dimly lit pools of warm glow from lamps and candles.

We tend to put a lot of effort into looking after others at Christmas, but finding five minutes for yourself can do wonders to get you through the chaos. It might feel selfish, but prioritising your own joy in the holidays  can help you figure out what you need to do and what you can miss this year.

SAY NO

This tip is probably the hardest. Learning to say No. You can’t do everything. Only say yes to the things that fit into your schedule. 

ASK FOR HELP

If you are hosting – get family members to help chop, dice and serve, or make their own drinks. It will add to the family atmosphere.

MERRY CHRISTMAS TO ALL! MP X 

Donna Hay’s famous Christmas ham.

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