Christmas in the Time of Covid
Updated: Dec 3, 2020
For a Christmas dinner table to see off the year that wasn't, event designer Maria Castellanos is sidestepping festive cliches and embracing candlelit jewel tones.
This year, Christmas is going to be different.
How many times have we been told this? Probably one too many.
However, once we have all decided which other two households we are going to spend it with, the five days we are given permission to spend indoors with family and friends don’t have to be all that different from Christmases past. In fact, they offer an opportunity to celebrate the fact that this terrible year is finally days away from coming to an end. And what better way of celebrating than with a long, boozy, delicious meal around a beautiful table full of warmth and sparkle? See?! Not so different from other years.
As shown in images above and left, the table doesn’t need to be overwhelmingly ‘Christmassy’. There are ways of bringing the seasonal spirit into the room without falling into the obvious traps. In fact, I’m a big believer in steering clear of things like traditional red and green, and stuffing both dinner table and mantelpiece full of poinsettias. When it comes to a colour scheme, I like to change it up. Rich jewel tones always work well on a winter’s day. Equally, light but bright colours evoke joy. Whichever hues I go for, however, I always add a touch of gold – whether it’s the candlesticks or tea light holders, the vases, cutlery or linens, its shimmer always brings something special to the table.
Texture is almost as important as colour, particularly for a Christmas table. Metallic and/or glittery surfaces lend depth as well as a celebratory tone – see, for example, the linen napkins with gold metallic stars above, or the decorative baubles and little birds further down. I’m not usually a huge fan of glitter on a tablescape. However, I make an exception for my Christmas and New Year’s Eve tables. I think this time of year calls for something more sparkly and dramatic, even if it's just little accents here and there.
Velvet is another texture I love. Velvet bows work wonders on any table, but are particularly suited to the colder months. Whether surrounding a menu card or simply tied around the cutlery, or even adorning some homemade crackers, thick velvet bows invariably add warmth and a sense of luxury.
Lighting is another crucial element, and the more candles you can get on the table the better. As well as serving their primary purpose, candlesticks and tea light holders are decorative in themselves. I really love combining ones of different heights, or if you don’t have that option, mingling candles of varied lengths.
Everyone looks their best in candlelight, and your photos will attest to the magic of its flattery. Even if you’re having a lunch party rather than an evening event, if it’s winter and indoors, candlelight is always welcome. Even better, try and get hold of some beeswax candles, which give off a lovely scent.
When it comes to flowers, I don’t usually have a pre-planned idea of what I’m going to choose. I love going to the market or florist and getting inspired by what they have available. If I’m in the countryside I pick whatever I come across – flowers, foliage or herbs. Wild flowers wilt very quickly once picked, so it's always better to wait until the last minute. Once you have a table with a bit of sparkle, texture and candlelight, as long as you love the flowers, they don't need to adhere to a particular theme. Flowers always enhance a table, so there's no need for a rigid aesthetic; instead, let seasonality and personal taste be your guide.
However, at Christmas I do like to add some specific seasonal touches. Crackers are always a fun way to start the meal, and you can make them yourself, adding personalised presents for each of your guests – handily, these double as place settings. As illustrated above, at a dinner last year I included baubles of different textures, sizes and colours in the centrepiece, interspersing them with the vases – a simple yet unmistakable nod to Christmas. Equally effective are the sparkly little birds (right) – usually tree decorations – that I clipped to guests' place cards. By the evening’s end they'd landed on people's hair and tops, travelling home with them and becoming keepsakes.
Last but not least, of course, is the food and wine. There’s something very appealing about piling everything on the table in big sharing platters, and letting everyone help themselves. Less formality is always a good thing in my book. As is having copious amounts of wine throughout the meal. Leave a couple of magnums of wine on the table, bring a splendid cheeseboard out alongside dessert – drink, eat, be merry. A great recipe for turning the page on the last ten months, and starting the next chapter.