The best part about the holiday season is the annual traditions that bring us all together. Ten of the country's best tastemakers have shared their favorite traditions with us, from the extravagant meals and festive gatherings down to the quiet moments spent with family, and we can't help but be inspired to celebrate, decorate, and, most of all, be thankful.
This year, however, the holiday season and usual events might look different for many of us—whether that means decorating the Christmas tree sporting masks, having a virtual Zoom cocktail party with friends, or even moving a holiday meal outdoors...but many customs can adapt and evolve and still live on. "That’s the beauty of family and traditions," says Richmond, Virginia–based designer Sara Hillery. "They grow and change. People have always found a way to make the holiday season a time to give thanks and celebrate, so this year, we will do just that."
Below, you'll find 10 festive traditions that will bring some merriment to the holiday season, no matter how crazy the world is outside your four walls.
Allison Caccoma’s Handmade Ornaments
Designer and San Francisco–based shop owner Allison Caccoma began a new tradition with her family four years ago. “Finding meaningful gifts was becoming more and more challenging,” she says. “Throughout the year, I now make every member of my family a needlepoint Christmas tree ornament–at least 13!”
Caccoma thoughtfully selects and hand-stitches each ornament, and she finishes them with silk backs, twisted cord trim, and embroidered monograms. “It has become a very special Christmas morning tradition when we open the boxes one person at a time and watch each other’s excitement at seeing their new treasure. This year, we will be opening them together over Zoom, but I am certain they will still bring joy to my family.”
Jeffry Weissman's Floral Tree
“We have a tradition of decorating our tree with live flowers,” says Jeffry Weisman of Fisher Weisman. “After buying our house in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, we realized that the many boxes of holiday decorations we had acquired over the years were all still in the basement of our house in San Francisco. Rather than trying to re-create the collection, we opted to go fresh.” Weisman places the flower stems in clear plastic vials, a florist’s trick, which allow the blooms to keep for well over a week. “So far, we’ve only used white flowers on the tree itself, but I envision a riot of color for Christmas 2021!”
Clare Louise Frost's Silver Heirlooms
"One of my most treasured Christmas traditions, weirdly enough, is after all the guests have gone home," says Clare Louise Frost, a textile designer and co-owner of Tamam who looks forward to the time spent with family washing and drying the china and silver used throughout the multicourse meal.
"The dishwashers always get a nice post-dinner chat and a last glass of wine before bed," she says. For Frost, setting the table each year means unearthing boxes of china and rediscovering her family's mismatched pieces of silver. "One year, my grandmother, in all her wisdom, had her son and his Boy Scout troop over to do the polishing!"
Thomas Jayne’s Thanksgiving Assembly
Designer Thomas Jayne has gathered family and friends at the monument on Central Park’s Pilgrim Hill for his annual Thanksgiving Assembly since the 1980s. “We read the description of the first Thanksgiving by Edward Winslow and lay a wreath of Indian corn in honor of Native Americans,” he says. “I think the tradition represents many aspects of American culture and feels in keeping with the spirit of our great American melting pot.”
Sara Hillery's Holiday Card Display
Richmond, Virginia–based designer Sara Hillery cherishes the holiday cards she receives from family and friends each year and incorporates them into her holiday decorating scheme. "In the Victorian era, they would hang their Christmas cards on ribbons to display them, since they were such an expense at the time," she says. Hillery similarly hangs the cards she receives over the fireplace at home. "We love sitting in the family room with a glass of milk punch, reading the cards and looking at the pictures of our friends each year. It's fun to see how everyone has grown!"
Philip Vergeylen's Decadent Christmas Menu
"My entire life I have celebrated Christmas evening with a dinner with my family, first in Belgium as a child and now at our house in the English countryside," says London interior design Philip Vergeylen. "The one thing that has never changed—and it would create a massive revolt in the family if anybody tried—is the menu. We start with cold lobster, followed by homemade foie gras, then turkey with all the trimmings and a bûche de Noël—a traditional Belgian cake that looks like a wooden log—as dessert." Rivaling the delicious food no doubt is Vergeylen's swoon-worthy tables, always set to the nines with colored glassware, antique plates, and sparkling candlelight.
Amanda Lantz's Ornament Collection
"When my mother was pregnant with me, my father, Barry, went to the local Hallmark store and bought a dated ornament, which he continued to do every year onward," says Indiana-based designer Amanda Lantz. "On my 21st Christmas, I opened a box of 21 ornaments that Barry thoughtfully had picked out over the years for me." The ornaments, ranging from a rocking horse to a cheerleader, all have special meaning to Lantz's life, and the two have kept up the tradition with a stop at Hallmark each year to add to the collection. "I usually do a separate, more personal tree of just these ornaments as they have a distinct style and such strong memories. I place it somewhere in my home where I see it often."
Annie Sloan's Hand-Painted Decorations
“Every year, we decorate our Christmas table runner to match our homemade Christmas wrapping paper,” says Annie Sloan, the British color expert and founder of her eponymous line of Chalk Paint. Sloan and her family set up a table complete with supplies and all the trimmings: Annie Sloan's Chalk Paint in a range of festive colors, reams of recycled brown wrapping paper, and, taking a cue from the Bloomsbury Group and the lively hand-painted decorations at Britain’s Charleston Farmhouse, found objects like pine cones, corks, and potatoes to use as stamps.
The painted results are spirited, unique, and also ecofriendly. “The ecological repercussions of buying pre-made Christmas decorations and particularly gift wrap has become a glaring issue,” Sloan says. “Now we wrap everything in bespoke Chalk Paint–printed packaging that makes for very thoughtful gifts.”
Nina Nash Long's Italian Feast
As an Italian-American, Atlanta-designer Nina Nash Long and her family look forward to Christmas Eve each year, when they celebrate the season with the traditional Feast of the Seven Fishes. "For as long as I can remember, my grandmother would spend days preparing the meal with every item made from scratch." For Nash Long, the seven-course meal of all seafood dishes is never complete without dessert. "The Italian Christmas cookies, which are delicious and cake-like with just a hint of anise, are to die for!"
Doniphan Moore's Festive Greenery
"When I was growing up, my family's church would host a service called the Hanging of the Greens, where they would light the tree and hang greenery throughout the church," says interior designer Doniphan Moore.
Today, Moore carries on the tradition at his own home in Dallas. "I wait until mid-December to hang fresh greenery, and I put it everywhere. It makes my home smell wonderful," he says. "My grandmother always used to say it was bad luck to have Christmas decorations after the holidays, so it doesn't stay for long. I always clean it up on the 26th to start fresh for the new year."
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