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A holiday home should be comforting and inviting while also evoking a sense of wonder and magic. The loveliest of holiday homes serve as a delight for the senses — from the delicious smell of baked goods, to the subtle scent of fresh flowers, to the soft sound of holiday classics dancing through the air. The sight of flickering candles and rustic garland bring aesthetic pleasure, while a gorgeously presented table of gourmet delights and festive beverages tantalizes the taste buds. Whether you’re planning a high-end soirée or a casual celebration, here are my ten timeless essentials for an inviting holiday home:
#1 A Beautiful and Delicious Holiday Buffet
While it’s a golden rule that guests should never want for food or drink during a holiday gathering, sometimes the rush to ensure plenty makes for a scattered or overly familiar holiday table. A beautiful, delicious, and unique holiday buffet can easily be arrived at with a bit of careful planning and creativity. Appetizers are best when bite-sized and colorful, my baguette bites are a fun option. Instead of traditional meats, which require a knife, I serve homemade crab cakes — hearty, flavorful, and easy to eat. Dessert is most appetizing when presented in small batches. Instead of a grand platter of holiday cookies or multiple pies, I offer a delicate assortment of treats such as tea cake slices, red velvet cupcakes, mint brownies, and shortbread cookies.
#2 Romantic Details
An inviting holiday home always has unexpected romantic details. Guests reach for mini candy canes presented in a handmade ceramic dish under an umbrella of white tulips and roses or flatware wrapped in soft white ribbon. Look for ways to elevate the little things and bring more romantic beauty to every aspect of their experience. Even something as simple as a box of fancy matches can be a conversation starter and add a touch of whimsy.
#3 A Silent Television
In my holiday home the television is never on. I know this can seem antithetical to the traditional American holiday filled with televised parades, much-loved movies, and sought after sporting events — but you’d be amazed at the peaceful and merry hue that comes over a home when conversation is not competing with the noise of commercials and eyeballs are not distracted by non-stop images on a TV set.
#4 Comfortable Temperature
There is nothing worse than bad temperature to ruin what is otherwise a lovely party. Too cold and no one really relaxes and enjoys themselves. Too hot and people are running for the back door and the party transitions outside with folks in their coats. In a well-insulated home, a thermostat between 68-73 usually hits the spot for most people.
#5 Soft Scents
Overpowering smells from chemical-based candles, cleaners, or home sprays is never a pleasant thing to encounter when you’re taking a bite of food or enjoying a festive cocktail. For flowers — the soft and intoxicating fragrance from roses, ranunculus, and eucalyptus is always lovely. For candles — I use either unscented white or pure beeswax tapers. Both have an ancient presence and intimate nature that is a timeless addition to any holiday celebration. The earthy, nutty scent of beeswax always compliments food aromas.
#6 Nostalgic Treats
The holidays bring out the kid in all of us. Nostalgic treats evoke happy memories and make for a merry atmosphere. Place fun dishes of traditional candy on tables and in nooks where folks usually gather or create a candy board as a coffee table or console centerpiece.
#7 Soft Ambient Melodies
Boisterous holiday music is wonderful when shopping for and wrapping gifts or cleaning up and preparing the house for company. However the same music can overwhelm a home when played at regular levels and mixed with the buzz of holiday cheer and chatter. For holiday music that keeps everyone in a festive mood, but doesn’t spoil the ambiance, chose traditional melodies and spirited instrumentals. You can’t go wrong with A Merry Christmas with Bing Crosby & The Andrews Sisters, Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker, Christmas at Downton, or A Boston Pops Christmas: Live From Symphony Hall.
#8 Your Attention
Perhaps the most important ingredient of any holiday home is a present hostess. As the matriarch, the hostess sets the tone, mood, and cadence for any holiday gathering — big or small. Having everything prepped and planned out days in advance — from the cooking and baking schedule to the delivery of the flowers to what you’ll wear — is essential. Attending a holiday party where the hostess spends all her time in the kitchen or is frazzled and frenetic makes for unsettled company. When you’ve done all the leg work up front you can give guests the greatest gift of all — your focused and generous attention.
#9 A Hostess with a Sense of Ease
I’m always barefoot when entertaining, it keeps me grounded, light-hearted, and happy. I know some hostesses that always have a dish towel draped over their shoulder, no matter what they’re wearing, it’s their way of settling into the role. Whatever it is that gives you a sense of ease do it. Trust me, no matter how inappropriate or informal you may think it is, your unique habit will make guests feel right at home.
#10 A Treasure to Take Home
Guests should feel special right up until the moment they walk out the door. An inviting holiday home always has a meaningful departing gift at the ready. Instead of typical trinkets like ornaments and other Christmas decor, which is based largely on personal preference, food is the universal item that guarantees a smile. I always send guests on their way with a homemade treat they can enjoy the next day when they’re regaling others with the tale of your delightful party.