The Washington Post
Celebrations expert Darcy Miller on hosting holiday gatherings
Darcy Miller, celebrations expert, illustrator and author, joined staff writer Jura Koncius last week for our Home Front online chat. Here is an edited excerpt.
Q: How can I get everyone to not bring their phones to the Thanksgiving table?
A: I’d ask guests to hand over their phones. Make it fun. Have a phone check, and have everyone put their phones in a bowl for an hour. Turn it into a contest: See who can keep their phone in the bowl for the longest. The one exception, of course, would be if someone is joining by Zoom.
Q: I want my table to be very special this year for Christmas. How can I bring a bit of sparkle to it without spending a lot?
A: I love sparkle and anything metallic. It’s easy to add touches of gold, my favorite festive color. You can add gold accents, such as silverware, napkins or dishes. You can also use gold paint, gold paper or even a gold paint pen to make your table shine. Add a quick brush of gold paint to nuts and pomegranates (or any fruit you have on hand) or use a gold paint pen to “dress up” a wine bottle or place card. I’m also a big fan of decorating a table with gold paper cutouts; cut out golden pine cones, trees, leaves or anything else that feels festive.
Q: Should you open host/hostess gifts while guests are still there? I usually wait until the next day and text a thank you.
A: Do what feels right in the moment. Are you having a bigger party, or is it an intimate setting? You don’t want to make any guests feel uncomfortable, so if some people brought gifts and others did not, I would wait until after the party to open gifts.
Q: My china is white and my glasses are clear. What should I do to bring this to life for Thanksgiving in my small apartment?
A: You’re working with a blank canvas. The easiest thing to do is to pick a palette and stick with it. Metallics are neutral but always look festive, or you can bring in color with fruits or vegetables (such as seasonal gourds) that can double as decor. It might be worth investing in one set of pieces that pop, such as fun place mats or napkins.
Q: Do you have any ideas for a festive Christmas-morning breakfast for a crowd?
A: Why not set up a mix-yourown hot chocolate bar? Set out mugs of hot cocoa alongside festive toppings (peppermints, silver sprinkles, sparkling sugar). You could also serve a mix of sweet and savory crepes wrapped in personalized holders. Mini scone “cakes” are fun and festive, too.
Q: What are some new ideas for a New Year’s Eve dinner?
A: One idea that looks elegant but takes the pressure off is to set out individual graze boards. You can include lots of options (crudités and dips for appetizers, pies and cookies for dessert), or create a mix of savory and sweet. You can also ring in the new year with a toast to good things to come. Stick labels onto small bottles of champagne for a festive favor. Have guests write their own inspirations during the party, and invite everyone to read theirs aloud as the year draws to a close — then pop the corks as the clock strikes midnight.
Q: How can I keep kids wellbehaved and at the table for more than 10 minutes?
A: Give the kids jobs. Have them help with setting the table or ask them to make a toast. Keep them busy with coloring pages and activities. If they’re old enough to write, have them make a time capsule or record what they’re thankful for or what their favorite memories are. A scavenger hunt before or after the meal is always a good idea, because it keeps the kids running around and lets them blow off steam.
Q: I like separate kids’ tables for holidays, but some people in my family do not. What do you think?
A: When you’re hosting, you get to make the decisions. I do love a children’s table; make sure it’s close to the adults’ table, so you can still be together. One alternative is to have one table but to seat all of the kids together, so they have their own section. As
my girls have grown up, I like mixing it up, so they can sit with aunts, uncles and grandparents. (Holidays are about the generations coming together.) Depending on age, it could also be fun to give the kids something to color or play with at each place, whether it’s a turkey cutout they can use to turn their napkin into a tail or a pie-shaped place mat where they can play tic-tac-toe.
Q: How do you think the previous challenging months will change our concept of celebrating?
A: I live by the motto: “Life is short. Celebrate everything.”
After the past couple of years, those words couldn’t ring more true. It’s been hard, and we couldn’t get together to celebrate occasions, but the silver lining is that we’ve had no choice but to be more creative. Celebrating isn’t just about the party — it’s about connecting and making others feel good. If you have a friend who lives across the country, for instance, you can put together a fun gift to share together over Zoom. We have more possibilities now in terms of connecting with those we love.
Q: What happens when you forget something? Halfway through serving dinner, I have realized I did not serve one of my planned appetizers. How do you graciously recover from a faux pas without over-dramatizing it? A: Don’t stress. Odds are your guests won’t even know anything is missing. If you don’t worry about it, they won’t, either. If you’ve forgotten a gift, tell them it’s on the way. If you forgot to serve the salad, turn it into a fun moment: Tell the guests they’ll be having salad after dinner and laugh about it. Don’t let mishaps ruin a good time.
Q: I’m sure you don’t have any failures now, but when you were learning and getting started, did you have any funny party or hosting disasters?
A: Everyone has mishaps. When we were first married, my husband and I were making a dish to bring to my parents’ house. I often stored things in my oven (in my very small New York City apartment). We thought we had completely emptied the oven before we started baking, but when the apartment began to fill with smoke, we realized there were still phone books in the broiler section . . . and they were on fire!
Q: Do you feel as if you have to be extra creative with your own celebrations because your friends expect it?
A: When people come to my house, they know I’m going to go all out. I really enjoy doing things for other people and bringing joy to their lives. When I host bigger celebrations, such as showers, I like to have a theme and fill the party with lots of thematic details. The most simple things can be impactful, though; I like to personalize details based on the person I’m celebrating. We recently had a party for a writer on my team, and we quickly threw together a literary-themed celebration for her, with pencil favors and literary quotes.