Christmas is the time of year we all want our home to feel magical and inviting. With our friends and family due to visit throughout December, it’s time to start thinking about how to enchant your home into a wonderful winter wonderland.
In this post, I will share with you my definitive guide to hosting Christmas – from canapé ideas, to dressing the table and everything in between. I shan’t be telling you how to cook a turkey or make a Christmas cake though – think of this more as a handy ‘How to dazzle’ guide. Hosting a drinks party, or even Christmas lunch can be a daunting prospect in itself, particularly if you have never done it before – so everything I have created is super easy to do yourself.
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Growing up, my mother always made such an effort to decorate our house at Christmas. She would spend an entire weekend painstakingly dressing the tree, draping glowing fairy lights in every window and teetering on a stool to hang mistletoe and glistening stars on doorways. Our house was a Winter Wonderland that I can visualise still to this day.
It is this tradition and time investment that has been instilled in me – I love Christmas for all of its decadence. It’s the one time of year you can get away with elaborate garlands on the mantlepiece, twinkling fairy lights draped from mirrors and bowls of chestnuts and pinecones in (almost) every room seems quite ordinary. It has been a tradition of mine since I was a little boy to find the perfect new decoration to adorn the tree – something small but personal and unique too. Now that I share a place with my partner it’s time we create our own traditions that we will look back on with fond memories.
This year, it’s ensuring we have the ideal tableware and glasses for entertaining that will last us for many a Christmas to come. We both love having people over for dinner and/or drinks so it seems obvious that we should start with the entertaining side of things! Guests always tend to congregate around the table or kitchen where the food and drink is normally placed. Having a beautiful set of plates and glasses is paramount to creating tradition. I’m sure we can all recall our grandparents or parents digging out their fine china and dinner sets for special occasions? So you’ll notice quite a lot of this post is centred around perfecting tablescaping. I’m a tad particular when it comes to tableware however, which can be painstaking when trying to choose the right styles…
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Before we get to the table, first we must make an impression on first arrival:
THE MANTELPIECE / WINDOW FRAMES
If you are lucky enough to have a fireplace and mantle in your home this is a really effective way of adding a touch of festivity into your home. De-clutter your usual prized possessions and create – or buy – a wonderful garland to adorn the mantelpiece. We’ve added a few dried Hydrangeas to add depth and interest to the pre-made garland. If space allows, carefully position a few tealight holders and a candle to add to that delightful homely feel.
Candle: Cire Trudon ‘Spiritus Sancti’
The opulent ‘Spiritus Sancti’ from Cire Trudon brings to mind the holy perfume of altar candles, with notes of burning amber, lily of the valley, gold and olibanum. A heady yet gentle fragrance to burn on those cosy nights at home and even in the quiet morning hours before the festive frolics begin.
Did you know “Spiritus sanctus” is the Latin name for the holy spirit in the Christian religion. It is spoken during prayers and uttered when one makes the sign of the cross.
Candle care tips, courtesy of Cire Trudon:
Candle & Votives: ‘Winter’ Mercury Glass Votives
Add a touch of Christmas magic to each room by hanging a simple star or stem of foliage from the window frame. Tinsel is a most definitely a no no! Think Scandi minimalism for maximum effect.
Baubles aren’t just for the tree – they make great additions to chandeliers and light fittings as they glimmer and enhance the atmosphere in the room. We sourced a few stunning vintage French chandeliers online and have embellished them with different textured baubles from The White Company. Patterned bowls and dishes filled with baubles also make for great decoration on tables and take next to no time to create.
If you happen to have a couple of glass cloches (they can be picked up for a reasonable price from John Lewis) these too make for great bauble vessels. Carefully fill them up with baubles and place a thick bit of card over the opening, tip it upside down where you want to position the cloche and then gently remove the card as to avoid any runaway baubles.
People eat with their eyes first and mouth second – we need to make sure there is a visual delight to behold at the table! It’s not as simple as a few pine cones, a poinsettia and tinsel, certainly not in our house! Think about how many people you are expecting to attend your Christmas gathering. You want them to feel wowed and not overwhelmed when sat or stood – there should be space for the food and their drinks too.
I have often wondered what is the correct way to lay a table, sure we all know the standard everyday setting but to truly awe your guests there are a few simple rules to follow below:
- The lower edges of the utensils should be aligned with the bottom rim of the plate, about one inch up from the table edge.
- The water glass should be placed approximately one inch from the tip of the dinner knife.
- Place knives with blades facing the plate.
- Butter should be ready on a butter plate, the glasses filled with water, and the wine ready to be served before the guests are seated. There is nothing worse than rushing around once your guests have arrived!
- When an uneven number of people are seated, the odd-numbered place settings are laid opposite the middle of the even-numbered place settings.
After a little research and practice I have found the following tips to be mighty useful and are based on a standard table setting for a three-course meal. Note the basic “outside-in” rule. The piece of flatware that will be used last is placed directly next to the plate you are using.
Both forks are placed on the left of the plate. The fork furthest from the plate is for salad. The fork next to the plate is for the dinner. (Please Note: At more formal meals where the salad is served after the main course, the order of placement is reversed.)
The dinner knife is placed on the right side, and directly next to and one inch away from, the plate. The blade should face the plate. If the main course requires a steak knife, it may be substituted for the dinner knife.
The soup spoon is on the far right of the outside knife – not placed above horizontally to your plate or bowl!
The dinner plate is placed on the table when the main course is served and is not on the table when the guests sit down.
Large plates, such as the dinner plate and luncheon plate, are laid about one (1) inch in from the edge of the table.
The salad plate is placed to the left of the forks.
Small plates, such as the salad plate, fish plate, and dessert plate, are laid about two inches in from the edge of the table.
Usually one wine glass is used along with a water goblet. If the table setting is uncrowded, there is room to arrange glassware in any way you like, such as in a straight line parallel with the edge of the table or a diagonal line angled toward the table’s edge.
The water glass is placed in a position closest to the hand, approximately 1 inch above the tip of the dinner knife.
At least one wine glass should sit to the right and possibly above the water glass.
Place the napkin in the place settings center, or left of the last fork. A sprig of something seasonal tied up with string is an extremely easy and elegant way of presenting your napkins. To make the setting a little more personal you could also use a gift tag and write your guests names on them.
TABLECLOTHS AND PLACE MATS
Traditionally a formal meal requires there to be a tablecloth or linen on the table. A more casual gathering means the option to go without. A bare table with place mats would be the ideal alternative for this option.
Flowers and candles always work well as a centerpiece. Make sure the centerpiece doesn’t stand so tall that guests can’t see over it, it should accent the table setting and not be an obstacle. Traditionally, one thinks of Poinsettia as the flower of choice during the festive season, however, I personally prefer a more visually intriguing arrangement. Think along the lines of freshly foraged foliage, pinecones and winter berries as if plucked from a nearby forest only hours ago. We have intertwined a couple of garlands with fairy lights for a truly festive feel and scattered dried flowers and ceramic stars for a strikingly simple centrepiece for the table.
Candles, if meant to be merely ornamental, are placed on either side of the centerpiece. Or, place one candle above each place setting if they will be used as the only source of light. Overhead lighting, although practical for an evening meal can be too harsh and unravels that magical atmosphere! Try dotting a few tealight candles along the length of the table in decorative tealight holders for an added glow.
Whether you’re hosting a drinks party or a meal, nibbles and canapes always go down a treat. I know it’s easier to run out to the supermarket and buy a few packs of pre-made ones but you can easily make some from scratch at home and they are incredibly easy to make – this is coming from someone who isn’t a whizz around the kitchen! Below are some links to some of my favourite to make canapés to make.
You can’t beat smoked salmon at Christmas, especially with a glass of something bubbly! These blinis are served with a moreish dill sauce and only take 20 minutes to make.
An old classic with a twist. Yes we’re making shortbread, but leaving out the sugar here as it will be used in the caramelisation of the red onions – and this isn’t a dessert!
Cauliflower really seems to be having a ‘moment’ this year and this little recipe is super easy to follow, looks fantastic and is a quick and easy nibble to serve.
In our home, it isn’t really Christmas without Nigella or a mince pie, so the two together equals a superb festive combination.
Your guests should be given a drink within one minute of arriving ideally, once you have taken their coats and made any necessary introductions. Be sure to have a well stocked bar so that guests can help themselves throughout the evening and you don’t have to play bartender for the duration of the gathering! Remember to keep a few soft drinks options to hand for those who don’t drink – it’s always handy to check some mocktail recipes too. Below are a couple of my favourite cocktails to get the celebrations started, simply click on the image to be taken directly to the recipe!
The music is just as important as getting the lighting, food and drinks right for your gathering. Now, I’m fond of a Christmas carol but they can be a little overwhelming and grating if played on loop for most of November and December – there’s only so much of ‘Frosty the Snowman’ one can take. Ease the playlist pressure and save my Christmas Spotify playlist below:
- L’Objet Soie Tressée Gold Dinner Plate
- L’Objet Tressée Gold Bread Plate
- Cire Trudon Spiritus Sancti Candle
- Marcel Wanders for Christofle White Wine Glass
- Rosemary and Pinecone Christmas Garland
- Nordic Star Hanging Decoration
- Flecked Glass Baubles
- ‘Winter’ candle votives
There we have it. My definitive guide to hosting the most wonderful Christmas this year!
I hope you feel inspired and excited for the next couple of months ahead and you have a truly wonderful Christmas. I’d love to see your photographs and to hear how you got on if you use or buy anything featured in this post. You can leave a comment below or tag me @boyinbreton on Instagram!