Christmas: The season for gracious hospitality

Published 12:37 pm Thursday, December 17, 2015

interior insights dec 2004

“’Tis the season to be jolly,” so goes the Christmas carol. However, to me, ‘tis the season to extend warmth, joy and love to friends and family. This got me thinking about the meaning of hospitality.

I have been reading George R. R. Martin’s Game of Thrones. In the book, the king of the North, Rob Stark, and his family are invited to the wedding of a girl that he had been engaged to and jilted. The family decides to attend as the rules of hospitality dictate that when you are under your host’s roof and have accepted food and drink you are not only welcome but safe as well. However, the rules of hospitality are not kept and they are all murdered.

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This old custom shows up in many civilizations. Its roots come from the time when travel was long, difficult and not very safe. Visiting friends and family was an arduous journey and you stopped along the way at homes and inns. In the Middle East, where finding an oasis in a sea of sand was a matter of life or death, the rules of hospitality go much further. The rules insured that you were welcome, safe, given water and sustenance (dates and figs) to reach the next well.  This was always done with care and kindness according to the means of the host.

Today, hospitality is rarely a matter of protection and survival and is more associated with etiquette, style and entertainment. We tend to see receiving guests as part of creating relationships, however, it still involves showing respect for one’s guests, providing for their needs, and treating them graciously.

This is where the decoration and design of your home come into play. Decoration and design are really the plan you have made and executed to make your home work on a practical level, beautiful to be in so that it feeds your soul, and a place of love and joy to share with your family and friends.

This brings up the question: if you are expecting guests to stay this holiday season or you are thinking about hosting a party, is your house planned well enough to give your guests every care and consideration?

A wreath on your front door is always welcoming. Once you open your door to welcome friends in, how inviting is your foyer? This is a good place for a vase of greens or fresh flowers or a bowl of potpourri. I also like to have some soft music playing in the background when guests are arriving. Entertaining can be about fulfilling all our senses: sight, sound, smell, taste and touch. We should provide these for ourselves but it is a wonderful gift to give our guests.

If your guests are staying a night or two then your guest room is the first place to check and make sure it has all the essentials for a comfortable stay. First and foremost, a comfortable bed is a necessity. I always have my guest room sheets washed and ironed at the laundry – this is one of life’s little luxuries. I always supply extra blankets and pillows that are in the closet for my guest’s comfort. A soft rug on the floor, a chair to sit and relax in, a table that can be used as a desk or dressing table, a place to recharge a cell phone or plug in a lap top, a few books of varied interests, perhaps a small TV, a decanter for water and a glass, a radio/CD player for music – these are the things that make a guest feel relaxed and at home.

In the bathroom you need lots of clean, fluffy towels. I use bath sheets, bath towels, hand towels and washcloths. This is a nice place to use monograms on your towels. I have a heating light in the ceiling for extra warmth. A good hairdryer is a necessity. Soap, shampoo and body lotion all of good quality are also supplied.

Your powder room is the next place to examine with a critical eye. This is a wonderful small space to go all out in with your decorating scheme. Mine has a large print of Venice and I painted the walls with blue Venetian plaster, painted the ceiling and all the trim the same color of blue, and added a beautiful Venetian mirror and a gold sconce for light. It is a delight to be in this small room. Again, good soap, and some beautiful hand towels, either cloth or paper, can be arranged on the vanity or a small table. To complete the room, you need extra toilet paper stored in sight, a wastepaper basket, some tissues and a bottle of room freshener.

When entertaining for dinner I like to only have very light fare before dinner. A bowl of nuts, cheese straws or fresh vegetables and a dip are the perfect offering. That way everyone really enjoys dinner. One of my favorites is an old Scottish favorite, Cheese Shortbread. See recipe below.

Set your table for dinner in as festive a manner as possible, with beautiful silver, crystal and china if you have it. Otherwise, colorful pottery and festive tablecloths, mats and napkins with a centerpiece of flowers or fruit make for a lovely table. Don’t forget the candles; we all look better by candlelight.

Entertaining and hospitality is all about graciously making your guests happy, comfortable and extending the hand of friendship and respect to all that enter you domain. Enjoy!


Scottish Cheese Shortbread

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Pinch of cayenne pepper
8 ounces extra-sharp white Cheddar cheese, finely shredded
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour


  1. Using electric mixer fitted with whisk attachment, beat together butter, salt, black pepper, and cayenne at low speed just until blended. Add Cheddar and flour and mix at low speed just until smooth (do not overmix). Shape dough into disk, wrap in plastic wrap or waxed paper, and chill 30 minutes.
  2.  Arrange racks in upper and lower thirds of oven and preheat to 350°F. Line two large baking sheets with parchment paper.
  3. On lightly floured surface, roll out dough to 1/4- to 1/8-inch-thick round. Using 1 1/2- to 2-inch round cutter, cut out rounds and arrange 1 1/2 inches apart on baking sheets. Reroll scraps if desired (rerolled scraps will be tougher).
  4. Bake shortbread until lightly golden and beginning to brown on edges, about 13 to 15 minutes. Cool on sheets five minutes, then transfer to racks to cool completely.