A Special Season
Make your holiday personal (not perfect)
By Klein Aleardi

It’s our favorite time of the year. No, not because of the presents – because of the people.

We’re dusting off our decorating ideas, prepping our cooking skills and getting ready for those oh-so-special gatherings where people we maybe haven’t seen in awhile join us for some memorable moments. From tablescapes and mantel scenes to delicious menus, we want to make sure every guest has exactly what they need to make this holiday season magical. But this year, we’re going to do that without feeling overworked and overwhelmed. (Really, let’s give it a try.)

“It’s one of the few times in the year to have your family and friends around the same table,” says Aimy Tran, founder of Handmade Host. “You want your home to show the importance of the occasion. But keep in mind, it’s possible to do that without stressing throughout the process.” 

A good place to begin is by choosing your theme. That one choice will guide you through the rest of your planning. It may seem like a big decision, but you can start with a baby step: Pick one “main event” item and work from there. Say you have a favorite deer decoration. You could build a woodland theme around it with antlers in your tablescape, collect greenery and acorns from the backyard for your garland, and use a slab of wood as the base of your centerpiece.  

“Another example is, if you have one of those snowy Christmas villages, build off that with a White Christmas theme,” Tran says. “Or if you have a silver deer you love, make it a winter wonderland theme with glittery trees and twinkling lights.” 

With your theme in mind, find a few simple places to let your artistic expression shine. Could be around the mantel or along the main stairway, maybe on your front porch or simply how you decorate the dinner table. It definitely doesn’t have to be all those spaces, though. You can limit your decor to a few areas your guests will gather, and by tying it together with your theme, the impact will be felt throughout.

Another simple addition to your home decor: scents. While candles can fill a room with cozy scents as well as provide mood lighting, making a stovetop potpourri is an easy way to fill the entire house with a delectable aroma, says Tran. 

“Take a large pot and put water in it with things like cinnamon sticks, ginger, rosemary sprigs, cloves, star anise and fresh cranberries, and bring it to a boil,” she says. “Scents are tied to memories, so this will get you and your guests in the holiday mood and add to the ambiance. Just make sure you keep adding water so the ingredients don’t burn.” 

You can even bunch the dry ingredients together in a small pouch and give them to guests as favors so that they can make their own stovetop potpourri at home. 

There are many ways to welcome your guests and have everyone feeling the holiday spirit, but the biggest tip Tran has for hosts this season is simple. “Have fun with it,” she says, “and go with the flow. Nothing has to be perfect. Your guests will be happy to celebrate the season with you. Remember to take it all in and join the celebration.”  


Hold the meat

When you’re planning the menu for your party, be sure to include any guests who may have dietary needs. 6% of Americans follow a vegetarian diet and 4% follow a vegan diet, according to statista.com. Try these dishes for guests who want to skip the meat.

Appetizer: Spinach and artichoke dip
Combine cream cheese, mayonnaise, Parmesan cheese, Romano cheese, garlic, basil, garlic salt, salt and pepper together and add artichoke hearts and spinach. Top with mozzarella cheese and bake. To make the dish extra cozy, serve the dip in a bread bowl. 

Entrée: Lentil Winter Salad
Start with Kale and green lentils as a hearty base and top with roasted carrots, roasted red cabbage, onion, parsley and pomegranate seeds. Mix mustard, balsamic vinegar, soy sauce, lemon juice, salt and pepper for dressing.

Side: Brussel Sprouts
Coat brussel sprouts and cranberries in a mixture of olive oil, brown sugar and Dijon mustard (whisked together) and bake. Then toss in pecans.

TIP: if you have guests with dietary restrictions, make sure to label your dishes so they know which ones to skip.


 

If you want to go big…

If you’re one of those people who loves to go above and beyond, and you promise not to stress over it, ok, we have some ideas for you too.

“One of my favorite ways people are doing centerpieces these days is by putting them above the table,” says Aimy Tran of Handmade Host. “There 

are rods that clip onto either end of the table and stretch across, over your guests’ heads. You can hang your garland, some flowers, lights, even ornaments along the rod.” 

If you go for the overhead decor, you’ll want to keep your tabletop decor minimal, although Tran recommends bringing out the fine china and layering all your plates. “There’s so much food during the holidays, having that extra space on your table can be helpful.” 

Tran’s other favorite eye-catching decoration may sound surprising. 

Balloons. “Balloon arches are very in right now. And while most people think of balloons for kids’ parties, they can be elegant,” she says. 

Have them cascading down your railings, add bunches to your door frame or attach an arch to the wall using command hooks. As for colors, try lots of metallics and use hi-shine or even hairspray to give each balloon an extra shine. (If you really want to wow guests, buy fake snow spray and give your arch a frosted accent.)


Build your own balloon arch

Wait, wait, wait. How is building a balloon arch stress free? First rule: If you don’t think it is, skip it. But if you can see involving the kids and making this a fun afternoon DIY activity, we say go for it.

What you’ll need:
• Type 260 balloons Balloons of various sizes: 5 in., 9 in., 11 in., 17 in.
• Balloon pump
• Command hooks

1. Attach command hooks along the wall or doorway where you will hang your balloon arch

2. Fill up a variety of 9 in., 11 in. and 17 in. balloons 2 at a time and tie the two together by the stems (when you fill the balloon, squish it slightly against your body to give it a more round shape) 

3. When you have 2 pairs of two balloons, tie the four together by the stems

4. Repeat step 3, attaching each quad of balloons to the previous group 

5. When your arch reaches about 10 feet long, it’s ready to hang on the hooks, and you can manipulate them to get the desired shape 

6. Blow up the 5 in. balloons and make quads by tying bunches of 2 and 2 together 

7. Using the type 260 balloons or a rubber band, attach them to the balloon arch to fill in the gaps

TIP: for a holiday touch, you can add some greenery to the arch or include foil balloons in the shape of candy canes or gold stars.


3 bar ingredients for mocktails

Lots of people are choosing to limit their alcohol consumption this year, so stocking the bar with just a few simple ingredients will give your guests zero proof options. 

Juices
Acting as a mocktail’s main ingredient, a variety of juices is a must-have behind the bar. Choose a few flavors to give your guests options. Apple cider is perfect for those cozy vibes, while orange juice and cranberry juice will always be crowd-pleasers. 

Ginger beer
Elevate your mocktail from just a cup of juice to a dynamic taste profile with the bite of ginger beer. Add it to one or two of your favorite juices for a refreshing combination. 

Garnish
The devil is in the details, and that goes for drinks as well. Stock the bar with garnishes like cinnamon sticks, fresh cranberries and mint to perfect the look while amplifying the flavor. 


Kicking it with the kids

Go head-to-head
Bring out some old-school games, like a reindeer antler ring toss or snowman bowling, and get everyone involved. If you have the time, create a scavenger hunt for around the house. Pick straws to determine teams, so adults and kids who may not normally spend time together can work toward a common goal: winning!  

Play with your food
Let everyone have a little fun with dessert by serving blank sugar cookies and tons of icings and edible decorations like mini snowflakes, peppermint pieces and glittery stars. 

Decorate
Want some help with decor? Grab some string and popcorn and let everyone help make some DIY garland to add to the banister or fireplace. Or, have make-and-take bags available so guests can bring their creations home.


Stay calm and self care on

It’s important to schedule some much-needed self care this holiday season. Here are some ideas.

It’s Wooder
We’re constantly moving around each holiday season – picking up the in-laws, grabbing last-minute presents, making appearances at parties – it’s easy to let your hydration slip a little. While the CDC doesn’t have an official recommendation for how much water you should drink each day, the benefits of staying hydrated are endless.  

Unplug
Make sure to take a break every now and then from social media. A study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health found that people who took a week-long break from social media reported having better mental wellbeing. Start by setting aside 30 minutes each day for a social media detox.

December 2023
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