Jill Paglia offers her tips to fill your holidays with comfort, joy and a pinch of great style.
Anyone who knows me also knows that the holiday season, especially Christmas, is my favorite time of year. I go all out and savor every moment. In fact, I have always loved decorating and the festivities that come with the holidays. When I was a child, my mother used to let me decorate the entire inside of our house, so it’s probably only natural that I am still so passionate about it to this day. I wanted to offer you a few ideas that I hope will make your celebrations merry and bright. Whatever holidays you observe, whatever foods you serve or gifts you exchange, I hope this is a season filled with joy for you and yours!
The Early Bird
I like to get my shopping done early for the holidays so the only things left to pick up are any perishables I need for a meal. That way, you avoid the mad dash though the aisles, the crowds and the possibility of not being able to find everything on your list. And you know what I always say, prep everything you can ahead of time. You can clean, cut and freeze items you’ll be using for certain dishes so, when it comes time to cook, your ingredients are ready to go.
I love to use natural elements in my Thanksgiving décor, but rather than adopting the traditional oranges, browns, golds and burgundies of the season, I prefer to embrace a more neutral color palette. I usually design a centerpiece with white pumpkins and lots of soft greenery, such as seeded eucalyptus, and then I typically will layer some natural wood elements into the mix to create a casually elegant “harvest table” feeling.
Time To Shine
I love a theme party. From casual backyard bashes that celebrate the colors and ﬂavors of the season to stylish soirées with everyone decked out for an elegant evening, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa and New Year’s Eve are great occasions to go all out.
I have hosted parties that were all-day affairs ﬁlled with games, sports and multiple casual meals throughout the day, with easy-to-prepare-and-serve dishes like crockpot classics, a big batch of homemade chili and make-ahead casseroles. I’ll often add some grazing options, such as a charcuterie board, a warm artichoke dip with crusty bread or a baked brie in phyllo dough. You could also host a holiday potluck, which is a fun way to let everyone sign up to bring a dish and show off their culinary skills. You may also score some great new recipes in the process.
A Helping Hand
The holidays are hectic and there’s no reason to do it all yourself, so when one of your guests asks, “Can I do anything?” let them! People naturally want to help and don’t want to see you toiling away, so let them lend a hand. Give them something easy to do that will take a little off your plate. They can cut bread, fill the ice bucket or arrange desserts on a tray. They’ll feel good about contributing and you can focus on pulling everything else together.
A friend of mine recently shared that his family always sets up an area with paper and pens when they gather for Thanksgiving. Guests can write thank you notes and either exchange them or read their notes aloud during the meal. It also gives younger children a creativity station to draw pictures and contribute in their own way.
Double Your Pleasure
Around the holidays, I always make my Vanilla Wafer Cake, which makes a delicious dessert, but also a scrumptious breakfast coffee cake. It’s rich, moist and packed with coconut and pecans. The Vanilla Wafers add a great flavor, but if it wasn’t for the name, you would never know they were there. The cookies are finely crushed and used in place of the flour. There’s a reason it’s a classic and has been one of my go-to cake recipes for decades.
Sparkle & Shine
My porch is one of my favorite things to decorate and makes a stunning place for a photo opportunity. I say deck your house in your favorite theme, from delicate white twinkle lights to a traditional multicolored mix. Welcome your guests to your home with a show of your abundant holiday spirit.
Over the years, I have gradually been upping my tree game and collecting themed ornaments. I currently have three Balsam Hill trees, one King of Christmas beauty and four others from Hobby Lobby. Yes, I have multiple trees and scatter them throughout the main rooms in my house to really indulge in the spirit of the season. I have a ball picking the themes for each room.
My main tree is 12-feet-high and features a gold, silver, blue and teal color scheme. I also adorn it with sentimental framed picture ornaments that celebrate relatives who are no longer with us. My kitchen has a winter sea-themed tree with a white fur blanket as a tree skirt. My husband’s study has two trees, one is polar bear themed and one is decked out in Christopher Radko ornaments. My mom gave me all of her Radko ornaments, including some vintage ones from the 1960s, when she scaled down her holiday decorating. That tree will always hold a special place in my heart. I also have a Santa-themed tree that I surround with special boxes that look like pieces of art, and it sits beside a life-size Santa with ski poles.
Experiment with what you love, maybe a sports or ballerina theme tree, for example. Is nature your thing? Deck out a tree with woodland ornaments, pinecones and natural accents. There’s nothing that says you have to confine your holiday decorating to one room. The more the merrier, I say!
Mary Weaver, the owner of Floral Architecture, has been decorating homes for the holidays for more than 25 years. She offers everything from a complete seasonal design to unpacking and setting up your treasured holiday decorations and returning, after the holidays, to take everything back down. With her custom designs, she likes to think outside the box. She suggests, for example, embellishing a tree using only fresh flowers or a statement-making tree made out of dried Pampas grass, both of which have become very trendy.
Another creative suggestion is creating an edible tablescape or centerpiece using seasonal fruits, veggies, nuts and florals. She says don’t be afraid to create a statement that your guests will talk about well after the holidays.
All Together Now
Do you collect snow globes, Santas, nutcrackers? Make an impact by displaying your collections together.
Another sentimental touch I like is to display a group of family photos from Christmases past when my children were babies, to recent pictures of my grandchildren with Santa. I unify them by displaying them in silver or gold frames, but mixed metals can also help your space feel festive without having to resort to seasonal colors.
Now is the time to use your fine china or Christmas-themed plates. Don’t be afraid to layer. Start with a table runner and multiple glass candleholders. I use flameless candles set on evening timers. In the middle of the table, create a beautiful display of magnolia stems and pinecones with miniature ornaments intertwined with fairy lights.
Next, layer your place settings. I begin with a white placemat and add a velvet poinsettia placemat, then layer my dishes and finish with a napkin folded like a bow. I hang fresh wreaths in each window, facing the dining room, and accent them with silk magnolias, gilded in gold, to pay homage to our Southern heritage.
During the month of December, I stage a hot cocoa station with miniature marshmallows, sugar stirrers and mini chocolate chips next to my tea kettle. I also keep a S’mores box kit on hand that provides a fun activity for parents (or grandparents) and kids to do outside over a fire pit. Both of these have been a big hit with the young ones in our family.
Raise A Cup
This is the perfect time of year to indulge in family traditions and mix up a batch of festive libations that guests can help themselves to, from big-batch cocktails to homemade eggnog. We have a special Christmas Eve drink we prepare every year. The recipe was handed down from a beloved uncle. It is for an old-fashioned Swedish Glögg (red mulled wine), which is served warm and definitely warms your heart. I like to serve it in a crock pot on my bar, placed inside a large wreath.
Sounds Of The Season
From the time I hang my first ornament of the season, right through the big events, music fills my home and my heart. I create a special holiday playlist that I stream while I am decorating. A great soundtrack is also essential for a party. If you are lucky enough to have a piano, now is the time to really enjoy it. One year, I hired a young college student to play during our guests arrival and throughout dinner. This year, my husband is having a player installed on my antique Steinway baby grand. I am so looking forward to hearing it play my favorite Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Andy Williams and Mel Torme songs. It’s also where we gather for our annual Christmas sing-along.
Savor The Moments
No matter the decorations, the dishes or the details, be sure you take this special time to enjoy yourself with those nearest and dearest to your heart. What really matters most is not what’s on the table, but who is sitting around it with you. What’s important is the laughter, the stories we share and the memories we make. That’s the true spirit of the season and what makes our time together so special. OS