Holiday music events, gift ideas, activities for kids, food, decor & much more!
It's easy to be intimidated by all those lovely magazine spreads showing the perfect holiday table.
But gorgeous holiday decorations can be more than just a checkout line-fantasy. Many ideas require little more than a trip to the grocer and a bit of experimenting.
"The first thing to do is relax," says Diana McMillen, senior food editor at Midwest Living magazine. "And keep it simple. After all, the meal you are eating and companionship you are sharing are the most important things."
So, if time is precious, skip the handcrafted gingerbread village. Instead, try a variety of vases brimming with candy canes or red and green mint candies. Add some lights and greenery, and you've got a photo-worthy centerpiece.
"In a way, you are just adding something to the meal that makes it a little more fun," McMillen says. "Think of centerpieces as entertainment, not a measure of your being the host or hostess."
The same is true for decorations throughout the house, whether it's a trio of jars filled with sugar-coated gumdrops, stained-glass cookies hung on the tree or a garland of popcorn and cranberries.
All are inexpensive and easy to master. There's another benefit, too: a chance to pass along a holiday family tradition.
"Edible ornaments and decorations are some of our most popular content," says Deanna Cook, director of creative development for FamilyFun magazine "We are in this age of customization and personalization. People like to make something that is meaningful."
As with all holiday ventures, planning and getting an early start are crucial. Start the popcorn garland on Christmas Eve and you're unlikely to do much hall decking with them, never mind create a family tradition.
So here are some simple, affordable ideas from the folks behind those glossy holiday spreads.
¢ Use ribbon to decorate items you already own, especially if they are family heirlooms. Grandmother's gravy boat or attractive silverware are easily spruced up and serve as a reminder that the holidays are about being together.
¢ Fruits and candies make nice displays, especially when piled in a cluster of bowls (use an odd number, such as three or five). A centerpiece of bowls of wrapped candies, each bowl a different height, can double as decoration and dessert.
Or fill the bottom third of a trifle bowl with assorted fruits, such as oranges, tangerines or kumquats. Tall glass vases with a mix of lemons and limes also look nice, as do two varieties of apples in a wide, shallow bowl.
In addition, McMillan suggests playing with greenery and ribbon to enliven the display.
Don't feel stuck in a rut of red and green. Purple, orange and all things sparkly look great, too. But stick to one color. Small lights, especially those with battery packs instead plugs, are perfect, not to mention safer.
¢ For something a bit more nostalgic, consider making pomander balls, pieces of fruit that are studded with cloves. These not only look great but fill the room with the smell of fresh citrus and spice.
In the December/January issue of County Home magazine, contributing style editor Matthew Mead suggests studding oranges with whole cloves in interesting patterns, such as clumped in polka-dots or rows to form spirals.
Or use the cloves to personalize the pomander balls with a letter to honor a special guest. Mead tucked the oranges into a bowl accented with sprigs of greenery and ribbon, then displayed that on a silver platter.
¢ Nuts are always popular at the holidays, and they can look especially nice when displayed thoughtfully.
Spiced almonds work well set out in a martini glass. If serving nuts in the shells, a fanciful nutcracker or a display of a variety of nutcrackers is more fun than the standard, unadorned version.
¢ Gingerbread houses look great and don't have to be complicated. If time doesn't allow you to bake the gingerbread from scratch, graham crackers make a wonderful (and instant) alternative.
Use royal icing to hold the walls and roof in place, then use the same frosting as "glue" to decorate with candy. Several small houses, assembled into a village or spread out throughout a living room, can be charming.
To populate your houses, stack marshmallows two or three high to make snowmen.
¢ Make hard candy ornaments. Baking craft supply shops sell easy-to-use molds in numerous holiday shapes, meaning all you have to do is boil some sugar syrup and pour. Attach a ribbon and hang the candies on the tree or in the window.
¢ Don't forget about wreaths for the front door or hung in a window. Enhance them with dried whole herbs, such as bay leaf, or a mix of red and green peppermint candies in their wrappers.
¢ If stringing yards of popcorn for garland seems daunting, try popcorn star ornaments, instead.
Georgeanne Brennan features them in her new book, "Christmas Sweets." She begins with three or six pieces of 20-gauge wire, each 4 to 6 inches long. Twist them at the center into a six- or 12-pointed star, then thread popcorn onto each wire length and glue cranberries or popcorn kernels at the center. Add a ribbon and hang from the tree or in a window.