Setting the Table
Linens: Start with a one-color theme, (for this party, Oprah chose cranberry red) and accessorize in the same palette. Or choose other rich, festive shades, like plum, wine, or rose. You might dream of white linens and candles with a centerpiece of paper-whites. Nontraditional colors like royal blue, pale pink, sage green, or lilac can also be beautiful. (You can find reasonably priced red stemware, beaded mats, and napkin rings at CrateandBarrel.com and Pier1.com.)
Serving Pieces: Feel free to mix different patterns, new and antique, sterling silver and silver plate. Silver looks best with a slight patina; avoid overpolishing. Cut crystal also adds dazzle.
Centerpiece: Fill a clear bowl with greens, kumquats, oranges, crab apples, or multicolored glass ornaments. Arrange a cedar wreath tied with red or gold satin ribbons around a glass hurricane lamp or candlesticks. Avoid perfumed candles, and place tall candlesticks above eye level so they don't distract. Try groupings of votives or pillars on a mirrored tray.
Finishing Touches: Tie napkins with wire-edge silver or gold ribbon threaded with tiny ornaments. Make a bouquet for each place setting with miniature red roses in a silvery mint julep cup. Gift ideas for each guest: a special ornament, chocolate truffles, a jewel-tone votive.
Planning the Meal
The Buffet: Chef Art Smith puts all the dishes on a sideboard so guests can help themselves. "It makes them feel comfortable," he says, "which directly affects the mood of the party." You don't need a formal sideboard. "I've used everything from card tables to junk-shop bureaus," Art says. To protect fine finishes from hot serving dishes, use insulated pads.
The Menu: "Oprah's godmother, Mrs. Eddins, inspired me to make a hen, but they're hard to find, so I suggested roasting chickens instead," Art says. Oprah also likes a crown pork roast. "It's easy and it feeds a lot," he says. "And coming from the South, I believe in serving plenty of side dishes."
On Children: "If you expect kids to act like ladies and gentlemen, seat them with the adults, not at a separate table," says Art. Be prepared with plenty of candy for dessert—bowls of peppermint ribbons, and lollipops tied to the trees. (Find old-fashioned candy at HammondsCandies.com.)
Punch: The punch bowl is a gracious and easy way to serve drinks. Arrange the bowl, mugs, and cocktail napkins on a small table decorated with a garland of greens or holly, and place them in a room where guests gather. Art favors a nonalcoholic sugarless punch. You can have vodka and rum waiting on the side for guests to add themselves.
Dessert: Bring the coconut cake to the table to slice, as Oprah does. "She likes to serve guests herself," Art says. "It's about loving people with food."
Decorating the House
Windows: Hang a boxwood or red-berry wreath in each window with satin ribbon (berry wreaths are available at CrateandBarrel.com). A bay leaf wreath in the kitchen provides leaves that can be used all year in cooking.
Chandelier: Oprah's chandelier is draped with a boxwood garland. Other ideas: Tie on ornaments with ribbons, or drape the
Fireplace: Arrange a basket of pinecones and greenery next to the hearth. (For a box of evergreen and ponderosa pinecones, see Williams-Sonoma.com.)
Mirrors: Wrap tiny white tree lights around the frame of a large mirror or decorate with a swag of spruce and red berries.
Hall: Attach pine or eucalyptus garlands over an entryway, or tie branches of greens and tiny tree lights together with ribbons and silver bells and twist around the banister. (Find pine garlands at JCPenney.com.)
Tree: For a traditional tree like Oprah's, choose ornaments with an antique look and mini amber-colored lights that cast a warm glow. (A range of vintage-style blown-glass ornaments is available at MidwestofCannonFalls.com; tree lights at FrontGate.com.) Start a collection: Throw a tree-trimming party, and ask guests to bring an ornament. (For information on how to order a fresh-cut tree from a tree farm or to find growers near you, try Christmas-Tree.org.)
We Hear You!