In the entertaining blog-sphere there are few more thoughtful commenter's than Reggie Darling. I have been lucky to have the thoughts and remarks of Reggie during my tenure here; when his name is que'd in Comment emails, I inevitably wiggle to the edge of my seat and chin propped on hand, read and reread his valuable anecdotes and suggestions. At once dryly witty, plainly frank, clever, and wise, I have found his thoughts and impressions invaluable and I am so very grateful he agreed to pen today.
Please join me in welcoming Reggie to Blushing Hostess.
Holiday Entertaining at Darlington House
by Reginald “Reggie” Darling
I recently received a charming invitation from the Blushing Hostess to provide a guest comment on her delightful blog, the Blushing Hostess Entertains. It seems that she had noticed my scribbles from time to time on her blog and elsewhere and was kind enough to flatter me into guest appearing to share my holiday entertaining experiences with you, her gentle readers and fellow travelers. By way of background, while I adore entertaining I am an absolute amateur and am not employed in the hospitality or event industries and never have been (well, with the exception of a revolting week spent during a prep-school vacation working in an ice cream store, mopping floors). I have spent the better part of my career employed in the world of international investment banking and share my life and entertaining experiences with my spouse, Boy Fenwick, an interior decorator with clients concentrated along the Park Avenue/Greenwich axis.
It was only after we bought Darlington, our country house several hours north of Manhattan, that Boy and I started to entertain guests beyond our immediate group of friends during what has become known with increasing solemnity as “the Holidays”. For years, with the growing trend of PC-driven secularization of what had in my youth been known as “the Christmas season”, I had become gradually more uncomfortable with the idea of throwing a large Christmas Party for fear of treading on the frayed nerves of those who didn’t or don’t celebrate that specific holiday for whatever reason.
But lurking beneath the gloom that had descended on me from the relentless drone of those who said it was insensitive to be “Christmas-centric” was the tiny flame of my inner optimist, of that someone deep inside of me that really enjoys throwing a good party, caution be damned! And when I realized that it was actually more convenient for us to throw a large party during the week between Christmas and New Year’s--since we usually took it off from work anyway and most of our friends in the country did too---the idea of throwing a “Holiday” party became much more palatable to me. It was a very pleasing revelation indeed that I could still throw a big party at my favorite time of year and no one could accuse me of being insensitive if I did so when the invitation read “Holiday”. What a relief that was.
And so we started throwing Holiday parties -- Holiday cocktail parties, that is…
The first couple of years we entertained on a fairly modest scale, no more than 25 or so for drinks and hors d’oeuvres. We’d hire a bartender and a local girl to help with the clean-up, but we pretty much did everything else ourselves. Over time, though, our Holiday parties became more elaborate, with others taking on more and more of the responsibilities, which culminated in a blow-out party for 125 a couple of years ago that required a virtual army of caterers, florists, staff, coat checks, and valet parkers to successfully carry off. And succeed it did—it rocked the house! But then the economy came to a screeching halt and it no longer seemed appropriate, or wise, to throw such a bash, what with friends and acquaintances losing jobs and what had at one time appeared to be a clear path to retirement now becoming an increasingly winding, rocky road…
So we scaled back. Last year we decided that we would still throw a party, but it would be more modest, like the ones we did in the beginning. Instead of 100+ we invited 30 or so, and we did as much as possible ourselves. We still hired a bartender and a girl to help out (they need jobs, too), and our handyman directed people where to park, but we did all of the food and drink and decorating on our own. And it was a fun party, too. In fact some of our friends said they had a better time last year than at our larger, more extravagant parties.
And speaking of decorating, while we’ve always put up a tree and decorated the house with greens and garlands, we’ve learned to rationalize that doing so is also consistent with practices that originated among our Druidic ancestors in England who celebrated the Winter’s Solstice long before they had been converted to Christianity. Boy takes firm control of the decorations at Darlington for all our parties, regardless of the season, and really out-does himself at Christmas. We probably have several thousand ornaments collected over the years, almost all of which are vintage, and no year’s decorating theme has yet been repeated. The public entertaining rooms are always decorated quite handsomely for the season but we eschew “Christmas-y” decorations in general and rather decorate our rooms taking our cues from their wall colors and contents. For instance we decorate our dining room, which has goldenrod yellow painted walls, mahogany furniture, black horsehair upholstery, green wooden venetian blinds, and gilt-framed pictures and mirrors with similarly-hued decorations, including a table-top tree hung with ornaments of shimmering golds, silvers and greens laced with brown pine cones collected from our property. To us it says “holiday” and not necessarily Christmas. We also take care to leave the more personal expressions of the season, such as a treasured Neapolitan crèche, in our private rooms.
This year, given that the economic situation appears to be improving somewhat and we really do like to entertain and throw big parties, we’ve decided to ratchet it up a bit, again, and we have begun planning another holiday cocktail party. We’ve already signed up the caterer (that was the first call we made), and the guest list we’ve planned while driving to and from Darlington and our city apartment has grown to around 60 people so far and I expect will expand further still. Boy is already thinking about the decorations (“I’m thinking flowers this year, lots of them!”), and is consulting with a printer for the invitations. Who knows, maybe we’ll get the local off-duty state troopers to do valet parking again…