INTERIORS

CHRISTMAS IS THE BEST TIME FOR ENTERTAINING – IF YOU FOLLOW THESE HOLIDAY RULES

All the fun - none of the stress.

December 19, 2022

It’s the week of Christmas, and the good news for procrastinators is: there’s still time to pull it all together in style!  Whether you’re cooking the entire feast by yourself or bringing a dish to someone else’s house, just take a deep breath. People can set the perfectionism bar very high for themselves, and if they fail, usually they are the only people to notice.

Let’s go over your last-minute checklist. We’ve got your back with a comprehensive collection of excellent ideas for what if you just decided not to do the “perfect’ Christmas. What if you cut down the gifts and the overwhelming amount of food and drink, and just focused on the aspects of the festivities you really enjoy, such as spending time with your families and friends, watching movies, taking walks, sleeping late, and lots of simple but quality meals – whatever the fun part of the Christmas holiday looks like for you?

As the big day looms even closer, it’s time to remember Christmas isn’t one day.

It’s a season, an incantation, a way of thinking about the world. For those of us at MP, the holiday has begun; the week of Christmas will be spent shopping and decorating, and counting forks and knives, and wondering if there’ll be enough room at the table if our nephew will bring his new girlfriend along to the feast. But we will be doing what the French do, and buying a lot of the meal readymade, because there are no rewards in heaven for being the one awake at 4am peeling potatoes. “From scratch” does not guarantee Santa Claus will drop down the chimney with that coat you’ve had your eye on; nor does buying everything in, or ditching the parsnips or sprouts because you can’t be bothered, mean your stocking will be full of coal. 

What we think is a simple Christmas might just be the very best Christmas of all.

Christmas at home with Melissa. Photo: Alana Landsberry for Home Beautiful magazine, December, 2022.

Many of us try to make each Christmas better, more delicious, more original than the last – piling new traditions on top of old ones, holding drinks parties and dinners, festive weekend lunches and by the time New Year rolls around you feel as deflated as a month-old balloon. The festive season can be a whirlwind of get-togethers, so it is of little surprise so many of us struggle to find time to tick off the to-do list in the lead-up to the holidays. Fortunately, if you lack the time or the talent, there are ways to lighten the load, leaving you more time to be a fabulous host or guest. We have ways to make entertaining over the holidays an easier, more festive experience for everyone involved. We have new ways to create a spectacular, inflation-friendly holiday menu, without spending a lot.

So, if you’re finally on holiday. Or you’re about to take one. Here’s how to make sure that you enjoy it and discover how holiday magic doesn’t simply appear out of nowhere. You have to create it yourself.

Christmas at home with Melissa, who says, “If the hostess isn’t happy, no one is happy”. The secret to a successful holiday party is to make everyone feel relaxed.  Melissa’s Christmas tree with fairy lights and jumbo gold baubles from Chas Clarkson 2022 collection, www.chasclarkson.com; Photo: Alana Landsberry, courtesy Home Beautiful magazine, December issue, 2022.

The Christmas host(ess) sets the tone

If the hostess isn’t happy, no one is happy. This is Christmas. Even if nothing goes according to plan, relax.

The secret to a happy Christmas – like any good party – is to make everyone feel relaxed. Nothing destroys the impression of elegant panache than the smell of burning martyr.

Once your guests arrive, work the room. Spark conversations. Keep glasses topped up and the food coming. With smiling, relaxed hosts, people will have more fun tucking into simple, generous fare, than a feast dished up by tense or largely absent hosts. If the pudding is burned or the turkey overcooked, don’t cry or snarl at your spouse. Come clean with your guests, have a laugh, recall similar misadventures and pour another glass of wine.

Christmas at home with Melissa who is giving cakes from Flour and Stone, to family and friends this year.

There’s No Place Like Home on Christmas

People won’t remember you burnt the potatoes in in six months. They won’t remember what colour scheme your table was, what place-card holders you used, or what you wore but they will remember the feel of your home.

Make it warm and welcoming.

“There’s no place like home for Christmas,” says Melissa. “Make yours warm and welcoming’.  Melissa’s Christmas tree with fairy lights and jumbo gold baubles from Chas Clarkson 2022 collection, www.chasclarkson.com; Photo: Alana Landsberry, courtesy Home Beautiful magazine, December issue, 2022.

How to Decorate for the Holidays? 

Whether you’re throwing the grandest party of the season or hosting an intimate affair, there’s lots of quick fixes to add style and glamour to your home. There’s no right way to decorate for Christmas or whatever holidays you celebrate. But it never hurts to remember, decorating for the holidays offers the opportunity to be generous, in all forms of that word.

The holidays are a very big deal in our family, but it’s mostly about having fun, too, using lots of natural things, but not being a snob about fake decorations. We like the idea of using the same things year after year.

Fortunately it doesn’t take much money to conjure the holiday season in your home. Small humble moments can be equally effective as grand gestures. All you need is a little creativity and a bit of help from Mother Nature. 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 , holly or rosemary from the garden – or streets around your house – makes a simple, affordable table decoration, and take seconds. Combined with bowls of apples and white candles, it’s going to improve the general look of things. When creating festive floral arrangements, consider repeating a dominant colour or bloom in every room.

Whether you’re throwing the grandest party of the season or hosting an intimate affair, there’s lots of quick fixes to add style and glamour to your home. Photo: Zarahome.co.uk 2022.

You don’t need to spend anything. Christmas spending can quickly get out of control. One festive, affordable way to decorate is to add branches. Not only is it cheap and chic, but bringing the outdoors indoors feels natural, authentic and individual. It’s easy to forage a wreath out of willows–basically any flexible branch. These can be left plain or adorned with floppy dark green velvet ribbons, or foraged pinecones, berries, or evergreens.

Sculptural branches strung with lights evoke the quiet magic of a forest. When in doubt, a bunch of holly—or rosemary, adds merriment just about anywhere.

Mix vintage artefacts with a flurry of magnolia leaves, herbs, flowers, lights and your favourite serving dishes to create a warm, inviting atmosphere with a dash of nostalgia. Photo: Zarahome.co.uk 2022.

Experiment with New Design Ideas

Holiday decorating is a chance to experiment with new design ideas: the holiday table is a total outlet for your creativity. It’s not about the material stuff; it’s about experiences and shared times.

Mix vintage artefacts with a flurry of magnolia leaves, flowers, lights and your favourite serving dishes to create a warm, inviting atmosphere with a dash of nostalgia.

Christmas at home with Melissa who decorates with her grandmother’s gilt edged candlesticks and antique glassware, mixed with a Christmas tree from Chas Clarkson, www.chasclarkson.com Photo: Alana Landsberry, courtesy Home Beautiful magazine, December issue, 2022.

Waste Not, Want Not

People are decorating this year in a way that minimises waste, by using locally grown plants and food that can be eaten, dried or composted at the end of the holiday season. My grandmother had bowls of cherries, real nuts, grapes, and good chocolates, scattering them throughout her home. Everything was edible, and the arrangements offer a sense of fun that keeps guests on their toes.

Christmas might well be the most wonderful time of the year, but it often doesn’t spell joy for the environment.

The amount of waste that a household produces during the Christmas/New Year period can double. But the festive season can be just as dazzling without all the environmentally unfriendly trimmings. When it comes to presents, we recommend quality over quantity. If you can buy a more substantial gift for one person rather than buying small gifts for everyone, you can buy a quality item that’s more likely to endure. On the dinner table, you can display real mushrooms or vegetables with marzipan ones and thread kale leaves through silver rings as conversation-starting napkins that can cooked at a later date. It’s about being a little playful, surreal, or unexpected.

People are decorating this year in a way that minimises waste, by using locally grown produce that can be eaten, dried or composted at the end of the holiday season. Photo: Zarahome.co.uk 2022.

A spectacular, inflation-friendly holiday Menu

Christmas for a lot of us, means a glistening table practically buckling under the weight of the food: a burnished bird, overflowing side dishes, every kind of cake and plenty of wine. But with food costs soaring, this year’s feast might look a little different. How do you create a feeling of plenty when the dollars in your bank account are anything but?

The truth is, it doesn’t take a lot of money or a long list of fancy ingredients to cook a memorable Christmas meal.

 You can find many things at any standard grocery store, to pull together a grand meal.

You can find many things at any standard grocery store, to pull together a grand meal, including rich, fudgy chocolate cakes. Photo: Zarahome.co.uk

How the French do festive food differently

There’s nothing wrong with cheating and buying everything readymade at your local providore. The French have been doing it for decades. We always buy our puddings which are better than anything, we could possibly make. Keep it simple, but make it look beautiful because what is Christmas but a dinner party turned all the way UP.  The higher quality the ingredients, the less you have to do.

We love the French idea of smoked salmon at Christmas and think it’s great to go big on all kinds of seafood, especially generous platters of oysters served simply with wedges of lemon or a few splashes of mignonette, a condiment made with finely chopped shallot macerated in red wine vinegar. Your Christmas platter of fruits de mer might simply include oysters, and prawns. 

Just as in the most countries, some form of bird is often the star of Christmas lunch or dinner. It might be turkey, or a fattened chicken.  Often these are stuffed with chestnuts – or we like giving it the pancetta treatment.

The French would be in horror at the sight of how many side dishes grace the traditional British Christmas meal. So many competing flavours! So much food! Oh là là… We don’t like being overfaced with a plate groaning with too many things. Try serving the festive meal with some sort of potatoes, often in the form of a dauphinoise, and one or two other vegetables. Then add the magic of a few salad leaves to combat the richness of the rest of the meal. A simple leaf salad dressed in a  vinaigrette will work well. 

There will always be a cheeseboard at a French Christmas, perhaps more generous in varieties than a normal day, but seldom served with the accompaniments we enjoyed in other countries such as nuts and fresh and dried fruits – we love the simplicity of this. 

Our general rule for buffets and holiday meals is: Everything should be prepared in advance and served at room temperature or require only heating up.

Laying the table has practically become a sport in this day and age: not only is it all about the Christmas tree decorations, but it’s also very much about the way your table looks. Photo: Zarahome.co.uk 2022.

Trust the turkey to a chef

If you can’t imagine anything worse than cooking your own Christmas meal, or even clicking a few buttons on a microwave, try a high-end caterer or providore, who can sort out the menu. Food is cooked in a centralised kitchen, then whisked to your house the day before for minimum fuss. This is our strategy that keeps us calm. It’s not too late to raid, your nearest providore.

Parts can be easier to buy last minute, too, and if they’re frozen, they’ll defrost quickly.

Your guests expect a turkey, but putting one on the table doesn’t have to be a chore. Try just roasting your favourite turkey parts, breasts or thighs with the pancetta treatment.

Christmas dishes that put the pleasure back into cooking

Your guests expect a turkey, but putting one on the table doesn’t have to be a chore. Try another strategy: just roast your favourite turkey parts, breasts or thighs. Then give them the pancetta treatment. Stuffed with Parmesan, prosciutto, garlic and herbs, rolled and roasted until the skin browns and crackles, this is a quicker-cooking alternative to the standard Christmas bird.

We also love pear tarte tatin: For the holiday or any day, opt for the effortless chic of the pear tarte tatin (an easy christmas recipe that’s an elegant alternative to apple pie).

For the holiday or any day, opt for the effortless chic of the pear tarte tatin (an easy christmas recipe that’s an elegant alternative to apple pie). Photo: Zarahome.co.uk 2022.

Your holiday tipple: Champagne 

First and last with everything, is champagne. Have you noticed the vogue for drinks made with champagne, prosecco and other sparkling wines is reaching critical mass:  They’re festive, fancy, and literally scintillating plus your glamour factor instantly doubles when you hold a drink topped off with something sparkling. Cocktails made with bubbly stuff are also lighter and lower in alcohol. Choose the dry stuff.: It’s now possible to find good Champagne that’s not exorbitantly priced. Few things are more fun in a glass. They set a tone.

Flour and Stone Christmas offerings.

Ideas for your table, no matter how you celebrate 

Laying the table has practically become a sport in this day and age: not only is it all about the Christmas tree decorations, but it’s also very much about the way your table looks. The more tasteful, the better. Gather everything you need for the perfect centrepiece including delicate glass bud vases, seasonal sustainable blooms and tapered candles.

Christmas at home with Melissa, 2022. Photo: ALANA LANDSBERRY.

Centrepieces

For a long dining table, create groupings of arrangements so that every guest has a slightly different view. Try combining cut flowers with potted plants such as topiary or herbs. It should feel effortless. Choosing one type of bloom or a dominant colour to repeat through the house goes a long way toward taking the stress out of choosing flowers. There’s beauty in a feeling of coherence and continuity.

Think of the flowers for your party the way guests might.

The first thing they see is the entryway arrangement; the dining table is where guests spend the most time. You will get the most bang for your buck if you emphasize the flowers in those rooms. Entryway arrangements, call attention to flowers with a large, dramatic display. Use branches to give the display size and be generous with foliage, to suggest the experience of being in a garden. Tucking flowers between vine leaves as if they were hidden in the undergrowth brings a sense of the outdoors.

Choosing a dominant colour or two to repeat through the house goes a long way toward taking the stress out of Christmas decorating. There’s beauty in a feeling of coherence and continuity.Photo: Zarahome.co.uk 2022.

Are you an invitee and want to be a superstar guest?

Try bringing your skills to the meal, that your host (and the other guests) will truly appreciate. Don’t just be politely interested, be fascinated by what your fellow guests say and do. Help make great cocktails. Laugh at anecdotes, don’t get worked up by politics, and become an expert at steering stormy conversations into calm waters. Be considerate of others. Use small gestures at the table: no comments, like “I’m stuffed.” Go the distance. Stay for atleast an hour after the meal – because an early departure may break up the party. It’s like sticking a pin in a balloon and makes the hosts feel like caterers. Never pick up your mobile (unless you are genuinely on call, if you’re a doctor, say).

Be on the lookout for pressure points 

Jump in to help at the first sign, “Andrew, I see you’re rinsing plates. Did you know that I’m a Grand Champion plate washer? Can I practice my skills?” If people are getting heated talking about religion, politics, or anything else, go over, and even though you might be a new guest and don’t really know them, start a conversation, “I’m without anyone to talk to at the moment. May I join you? I was wondering…?”

Handling Things Well

Never be rude. Even if you feel like kicking your uncle or niece in the shins when they arrive two hours late only to insult older relatives, burn a hole in a silk cushion, get thoroughly drunk or break your favourite urn.

Smile through it all and keep the charm flowing until you wave them to the door.

Christmas at home in the city with Melissa, 2022.

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