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Holiday Cheer on the Cheap

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Decking the halls on a budget is more than possible–it’s funrustic-ornamentsDoesn’t matter if the stock market is up, down or just holding steady, the holidays are here.

And no matter what the state, it’s time to decorate, celebrate and stay up late. Getting in the spirit isn’t hard because setting the scene can be a snap. Plus serving up traditional fare on a table set with gleaming, shining, polished seasonal objects will make everyone feel joyous and festive. Can it be done on a budget? You bet. In fact, the budget can be part of the creative challenge.
1. Start by picking a theme. Urban: think glitter and champagne.
Country: think rustic logs and gingerbread houses. Olde
England: tartan tablecloths and Christmas crackers. Pakistan or India: hand-blocked linens, tiny mirrors and the scent of cumin in the air. (Personally, I’m inspired by hotel lobbies–the magic of the Roosevelt, the elegance of the Windsor Court, the bustle of the Omni Royal Orleans, the vibe of the Ritz-Carlton.)
2. Go through existing decorations and repurpose them. A glass bowl filled with all-silver, all-gold, all-red or all-blue ornaments speaks instantly to both Christmas and Hanukkah. Turn a wreath into a centerpiece base for a combo of fresh fruit and nuts or cranberries and flowers piled high in a footed bowl. (I spotted a great one at Walmart recently).
3. Polish that silver. Fill Aunt Harriet’s bonbon dish with bourbon balls or spicy, salty pecans or put sprigs of green in julep cups. For drama, apply glitter to tall white branches picked up at Michael’s and plunk them into a very tall vase.
4. Pull out the good crystal, whether it’s your grandmother’s Baccarat from Adler’s or Lee Michaels or it’s from World Market or Pier 1. Champagne and Diet Coke taste better in good glassware.
5. For a dinner party, nothing beats these little touches:
For glamour: Friend & Co.’s rhinestone covered napkin rings; proper place cards from Scriptura; or tiny silver frames with guests’ names written within.
Oversized rhinestones scattered across a tablecloth pick up light from lots of votive candles.
For rustic: peppermint or cinnamon sticks tied with ribbon; a huge winter blanket instead of a traditional tablecloth; place cards made from Manila paper; and candles placed inside paper baggies.
For both baronial and exotic: Carpet runners converted into table runners; pattern on pattern; large chargers topped with mixed-pattern plates and bowls; and cutlery that is equally as mix and match.
6. When it comes to flowers, consider tapping into the budget by calling Perfect Presentation, because everything they do is indeed perfect. Bring your own vases, bases, bowls, even champagne buckets, and they will turn them into extraordinary arrangements. Watching the budget?
Head out to Villere’s or Federico’s and swoop up armloads of roses and greens to add to glasses, cups and random teapots you have tucked in the back of the cupboard.
7. Holiday scents set the tone for the season, even if you never get near an oven! Scented candles, particularly spicy, woodsy ones like pumpkin pie, bayberry, pine and paper whites will have you in the mood with the strike of a match. Just remember the advice of party planners like A
Soiree by Terry Cambise: “Never put scented candles at the dining table, as it overpowers the smell of the foods.” Some opt for room diffusers, which require no matches; it’s a good option for those with children, but I’m still a candle gal.
8. Whether serving one or 100, offering a special cocktail to start or finish an evening says “Celebrate!” With that in mind, we asked two of our favorite bars to create something special for New Orleans Living’s smart set:
Whiskey Blue’s Pomegranate Fizz
Muddle 6 blueberries; add ice, then 1 1/4 oz.
Stiletto Vodka, 1/2 oz. simple syrup and 1
oz. pomegranate juice. Shake and strain into
a martini glass; top with champagne then
garnish with three blueberries.
Zoë’s Amanda Buhr’s
Chocolate Cherrytini
Muddle 3 maraschino cherries with a splash of simple syrup in a cocktail shaker; to muddled cherries add 1 3/4 oz. Stiletto Chocolate Vodka, 1/2 to 3/4 oz. Bailey’s Irish Cream or Godiva White Chocolate Liqueur and 1/2 oz. half and half. Shake and strain into chocolaterimmed martini glass.
(For other delicious ways to celebrate, look to Cheryl Lemoine’s wine column each month.)
9. Nothing says the holidays like bells–sleigh bells, silver bells, even bells to hang from a garland. The noise they make are the sound of the season. Put them on doors, hang from garlands, chandeliers, tree branches or on ribbons around guests’ necks.
10. When looking for greenery, think of the schools, houses of worship and philanthropic groups who benefit from your purchase. Failing that, shop locally for wreaths, garlands, centerpieces, poinsettias, paper whites, trees and amaryllis bulbs. All add to the beauty of the season and benefit this community.
Now, throw open your doors. Invite people in to bake cookies, share a brisket, help carve a goose, share a laugh and exchange the most important gift of all: holiday cheer! Have a grand December of celebrations.