Holiday decorating on a budget

December 20, 2008 8:14:03 AM PST
Bringing a warm welcome to friends and family this holiday season, while decorating your home on a budget. Lifestyle expert and author of "Life on Mar's," Mar Jennings, joined us with tips. As the chill in the air arrives in Westport, I anticipate enjoying a wonderful fire in the fireplace, great bottles of wine and fabulous gatherings with my friends and family. My Schnauzer Corky and I will cuddle up and read the paper while sipping on that perfect cup of hot chocolate. The sprinkle of snow reminds me of winters past, and inspires me to prepare for holiday entertaining.

Soon my home will become the destination for holiday cheer, warm soups and indoor projects that keep me busy into the early months of spring. No matter what Mother Nature brings this winter, my home will be well-stocked and ready for the long cold months ahead.

Holiday celebrations with friends and family mean new memories to cherish year after year. For many, the mere thought of finding and preparing perfect recipes may put an end to the notion of throwing any get-together. Preparation is critical and makes for a stress-free gathering. For several years I have had an open-house from one to six on the day of New Year's Eve. This gives me the opportunity to celebrate the New Year with friends and not feel obligated to stay up late. In addition, it alleviates the problem of overbooking that many people face because it almost never interferes with their plans for the evening.

This time of year gifts aren't found just under the tree?they're also found outside, among the trees in snow-covered fields and your own backyard; sprays of feathering evergreens, berry-studded branches and woody pinecones. Take advantage of these wonderful gifts from nature by getting outdoors and embracing the endless possibilities for decorating. Keep in mind that evergreen clippings won't last forever unless you display them outdoors, and even then, you can only expect about four weeks, two weeks when used indoors. What can I say-- nothing lasts forever.

Over the years, I have created some simple entertaining tips that will help remove any stress from the process. These tips are timeless and perfect for any holiday gathering.


I often place small candles and tea lights in different glasses, stemware and candy dishes. This is a creative way to display candles for any occasion. For the best results, use different size glasses and cluster together. Select interesting items such as coffee beans or even my favorite, hazelnuts, to fill the glasses.

Sand has been overdone in my opinion and not particularly festive for this time of year.

Here are my suggestions for the best results:

Navy beans
Soup Mix of assorted beans
Pearl Barley
Coffee beans

Now, find your pruning shears and let's go out to the garden. Boxwood, holly, hemlock, arborvitaes or even rhododendron clippings will help add that festive feel to your candle display. Intertwine small clippings around the display, keeping them away from candle flames. Pinecones are perfect to cover exposed stems, and with a decorative bow, add the finishing touches. Carry this same theme to your fireplace mantle.

Lemon Bouquets:

As you know I love to use lemons in decorating. I recently learned this from a caterer who often uses this as one of her tricks of the trade. It's simple and a perfect addition to any hors d'oeuvre plate and can be made a day or two in advance. Gather some lemons and let's begin.

What you will need for this project:

Spanish moss
Boxwood or any other evergreen clippings from the garden or garden center Sedum or any other flower with a strong stem.
Turn the lemon on its side and cut the tip off about one-quarter inch.
Trim the other bottom end a small amount so it can stand upright.

Add two to three inch tall evergreen clippings starting from the middle.

Add any strong stem flower or flowers to the lemon.

For a finished look, wrap Spanish moss around the top of the lemon where the stems of the evergreens and flowers meet the lemon.

Now, simply place them on your serving platters with the hors d'oeuvres and voila, you have a professional display!! These can also be used as place card holders and are great for small intimate dinners. Encourage your guests to take them home.

Lime Light:

Sometimes I like to invent new and fun ways to use votive candles. Votive candles are my favorite way of illuminating a dinner table, so why not add some food and fun into the mix?

I know spring has finally arrived when I see the bright color of lime on my tableware. I can't wait a single moment as my ideas emerge from winter hibernation and onto the table.

For this project, this is what you will need:

Some small limes
Disposable tea lights
Votives that can accommodate a lime on its side

I scooped out some limes on their side. Be sure to use the disposable tea light insert as your guide when drawing the circle for size. The insert should fit snuggly. Make sure that the lime fits sideways into your votive holder. With a paring knife, carefully cut out the circle and then scoop out the lime flesh, but just enough so that the insert and the lime's surface are the same. The green color reinforces the coming of spring and summer. Light and enjoy! Do several for a party and scatter throughout the house.

Lemons work well too, but it is harder to find lemons that are small enough to fit a votive. The bright yellow color can add spring drama to your table.

Magnolia Leaves as Place-Cards:

This season when entertaining dinner guests, why not add a whimsical garden touch to your holiday table setting? Recently, I was asked to create a festive table setting to be featured in a holiday HOME publication. I began to ponder on a creative table setting that would represent the spirit of the holidays without the traditional Christmas touches. Being a "lifestyle guru", I felt compelled to disregard the cache of decorations up in the attic and create a fresh new holiday dining table within everyone's reach. After a few minutes, I realized I needed to look no farther than the side garden. There was a rather large available resource in need of a winter haircut... Magnolia. I wondered if the lush, glossy, green sheen and distinctive shape would look as fabulous on my dining table as here in this natural setting. Could this large green leaf be the answer to my "avoid the holiday cliché" decorating dilemma? Yes, definitely yes! The leaves of the "MARnolia", as I have come to call them, are the perfect size for a place card.

This easy project brings Mother Nature to your dining table without the need for an extra place setting.

What you will need for this project:

Magnolia leaves: one for each place setting. Leaves are available at most garden centers now through spring.

A package of raffia: I prefer the natural color but you can use any color you prefer. There is more than enough for this project, but it's always better to have a little extra.

Cloth napkins: I prefer 100% linen; one for each dinner guest.

A gold or silver extra fine point Pilot permanent marker:
Available at any art supply store.

The first thing you must do is protect your table or workspace as metallic markers can get messy if pressed too hard.
Place your leaves in a row on the table. Carefully write each name on a magnolia leaf. Let dry for about a minute.

While the leaves are drying, prepare your napkins. The fold I like to use is one that I created and call the "bowtie fold". For the best results, iron your napkin flat. Fold in half, and iron again; fold in half again creating a square. Fold in half once again creating a flat 3x6 napkin. Once all the napkins are folded and ironed, you are ready to tie them.

Place a napkin lengthwise in front of you and put a piece of raffia about 10 or so inches long under it in the center, perpendicular to the napkin. Pinch in the center of the napkin by tying a bow, allowing the extra raffia to fall out to the sides of the napkin. Cut any excess. Now, slide the stem of a personalized magnolia leaf under the raffia in the center of the bow, in one of the folds created by the raffia bow.

This project can be done well in advance as Magnolia leaves will last a week before drying out. Place the napkin with leaf right on the plate or charger for the best impact.

"Marnolia" can be used to accent a mantle or coffee table as well as your dining room table. So bring a bit of Mother Nature in your home. She never stays for dinner!

And there you have it!

For more decorating ideas, check out Mar's website at

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