Midcentury Christmas Dinner
Updated: Aug 4
A couple of years ago Rachel and I decided that we wanted to start having proper dinner parties. Not just parties where you invite all your friends and put out a spread and a punch bowl (though we love those parties, too), but straight up dinner parties with place cards and china and water glasses. A party at which everyone can fit around the dinner table. A dinner with several courses and a ceremonial carving of an animal. We figured there was no better time to host this type of party than Christmas.
Something else that might not be that surprising about me: I fucking love Christmas. You know when Halloween finished up and Macy's is suddenly festooned with holiday decorations and everyone is like, "Oh, it's not even Thanksgiving yet! This is so annoying!" I agree with everyone verbally - in order to fit in - but in reality I am emotionally swinging from the silver bells and rolling in heaps of tinsel. I am also playing Christmas music the moment I put my Halloween costume away. SORRY NOT SORRY.
Anyway. It seemed right to have annual Christmas dinner parties. We organically came up with some guidelines for the parties.
1.) Only 8 people - including us - were to be in attendance. This is because our adorable IKEA table only holds 8 people (and only barely.).
2.) The dinner was to be themed. This goes without saying.
3.) We would send invitations in the mail to our guests.
I feel like getting an invitation in the mail is one of the keys to a proper dinner party. It gives the whole thing an air of formality and mystery. There is a ritual to opening a letter that adds a physical connection to the event at hand. You get excited about opening a letter. Just like you should be excited about the party it invites you to.
Year two of the Christmas Dinner was our midcentury meal (year one gets saved for later/when I can find the invitation file). We had so much fun researching retro Christmas recipes on-line and in our grandmothers' recipe boxes. The most exciting part for me was all the Jello people were consuming in the 1950s. Let's call it like it is, my friends: this was a golden age in our country's culinary history.
In addition to Christmas, my other socially unacceptable obsession is Jello.
The invitation development was also really fun. I looked up vintage holiday cards on the Google and came away with a bunch of amazing graphics. I was super sad not to find a place for this door. Such is life.
The invitations went out to our 6 guests, and we got down to menu development. In addition to sending out invitations, I think the other overlooked dinner party element is menus. Designing and printing out menus is just so freaking fancy. We decided to have three courses: the hors d'oeuvres and champagne apertif would be served in the salon before everyone moved to the dinner table for dinner and dessert. At the table, we indicated where guests should sit by placing a cutout cookie iced to resemble each person on their plate. Couples were split up. I'm a firm believer that couples should always be split up at dinner. I'm kind of a dick.
The 1950s food was a delight to create. The shrimp cocktail was toothpicked to a styroform cone covered in lettuce in order to look like a Christmas tree. The aspic salad combined pears and avocados in line jello (!!!!!). The Evergreen Cake was legitimately three giant cakes iced with green frosting. The 1950s were so damn over the top.
Speaking of style - we asked everyone to wear a midcentury style outfit, naturally, and every one of the guest killed it. They looked so fly. I mean LOOK at Emily Teel here!
After dinner we gave Christmas crackers to everyone. Christmas crackers are kind of the shit. There is absolutely no reason not to give out Christmas crackers to everyone you know all season long.
It was a delightful dinner, and a great Christmas theme. I learned two things. First, a 1950s Christmas party makes for an easy playlist. 1950s Christmas music is 100% the best. Secondly, ham should always be covered in pineapple, cherries, and cloves.