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Get expert ideas for hosting stylish—and safe—holiday gatherings this season

Get expert ideas for hosting stylish—and safe—holiday gatherings this season
December 2020

Three event designers take on Christmas, Hanukkah, and New Year’s Day

Christmas: Relatives convene in the garden for an enchanting holiday dinner

Designer: Tara Guérard, Tara Guérard Soirée
Number of Guests: 8
Location: A downtown courtyard 
Photographs: Peter Frank Edwards


  • Charcuterie
  • She Crab Soup with a Dollop of Sherry 
  • Beef Wellington
  • Baked Salmon with Asparagus, Lemon, White Wine, Capers, Spinach, & Cherry Tomatoes
  • Tara’s Eggnog (click here for the recipe)

Dinner in a secret garden: that’s how Tara Guérard, owner and creative director of Tara Guérard Soirée, conjures Christmas magic. The pro, who is sought after by celebrity clientele and regularly placed on “best planner” lists, can make the most elaborate celebrations feel intimate. So when she turns her powers to a safe holiday feast for eight adult family members, the precautionary measures transform into personal luxuries.

Inviting armchairs are gathered around the dining table, where miniature Christmas trees (lemon cypresses sourced from Hyams Garden Center) create a wintery scene alongside candlesticks, pomegranates, persimmons, and berries. Each place is set with an individual charcuterie plate, artfully curated by goat.sheep.cow., beneath a glass cloche tied with a copper name tag. 

Servers (who, like the guests, took rapid COVID-19 tests before the event) don custom masks and gloves to serve the tasting menu of she crab soup, beef Wellington, and baked salmon. But this fête’s hardly too elegant for a game of Dirty Santa: guests pull on their own pair of gloves to swap and steal presents while sipping a dessert eggnog.

True secret gardens are rare commodities, but you can carve one out of your own green space, promises Guérard. Cafe lights are essential. “To create an instant dreamy garden feel, cut ivy or smilax from your yard and wrap two- to three-foot pieces around the lights’ wires after you string them up,” she advises. “It will look like the vines grew there naturally.”

How-To Make Tara’s Centerpiece of Potted Plants

For stress-free “florals,” plant a display that will live on into the New Year

  • Select a planter sized to suit your table. Guérard’s metal one is about 20 inches long and came from South Windermere Antiques in West Ashley. 
  • Buy houseplants (herbs or succulents could work, too!) in four- to six-inch pots. Select three or four varieties, aiming for an attractive mix of colors, textures, and leaf forms. Guerard mingled maidenhair fern, prayer plant, dwarf monstera, and pteris fern.
  • After watering the plants, arrange the pots inside the container. Wedging them in at an angle may create a more pleasing effect; sheet moss (or balls of newspaper) can help hold the pots in position.
  • Top the pots—as well as any empty places in the container—with sheet moss.
  • Note the growing requirements of each plant; if they don’t share similar needs, dismantle the display after your event and use them throughout the home.

Design by Tara Guérard Soirée 
Tags, napkins, water glasses, and hand sanitizer packets designed and printed by Lettered Olive 
Charcuterie from goat.sheep.cow. 
Champagne glasses by Estelle Colored Glass, available at Fritz Porter
Tables, chargers, and cloches from Snyder Events
Rugs from GDC Home
Chairs from World Market
Plants from Hyams Garden Center



Hanukkah:  One family introduces friends to their Jewish traditions, including games, gifts, and plenty of fried fare

Designer: Ellen Cohn Robinson, WED
Number of Guests: 8
Location: A Daniel Island backyard
Photographs: Margaret Wright

Menu by Cru Catering

  • Matzo Ball Soup with Bagel Chips
  • Roasted Beet Salad with Goat Cheese & Pine Nuts
  • Grandma’s Noodle Kugel (click here for the recipe)
  • Dottie’s Potato Latkes with Sour Cream & Applesauce (click here for the recipe)
  • Dessert: Sufganiyot (Jelly Doughnuts), Rugelach, Black-and-White Cookies, & Chocolate Chip Challah

From the glowing menorah to dreidels that win (and lose) children shiny gelt: Hanukkah is mysterious to many outside of the Jewish faith, notes WED principal event designer Ellen Cohn Robinson. She put together a celebration for one young family who wanted to introduce neighborhood friends—a clan of four in their “quarantine pod”—to the Festival of Lights. 

“It’s a great year to share everyone’s traditions since many of us can’t travel to visit relatives,” says Robinson, whose pandemic party advice is “Keep it simple.” Welcome bags ensure that everyone has a mask and their own bottle of hand sanitizer. Menu items were designed to be served in individual portions—potato latkes in mini skillets, for example. And Robinson didn’t shy from high-end disposables, including plates and cups for the children.

Hanukkah’s customary blue-and-white color scheme defines the decor. For a fun kids’ table, the designer circled navy pouf ottomans around a coffee table. She set each place with a pair of dreidels and scattered a rainbow of smaller versions among bud vases filled with snowy blooms and greenery cut from the yard. The parents’ table has a similar look, but elevated, with mercury glass vases and votives adding some shimmer alongside pale-blue taper candles in gold holders. 

After the meal, the hosts show their pals how to spin the dreidel. Together, they light the menorah. And because many Jewish Americans give loved ones a gift on each of the eight days of Hanukkah, everyone gets to open a present—a sharing of affection among friends who have come to feel like family.

Design by Ellen Cohn Robinson, WED 
Food by Cru Catering
Home courtesy of Drue & Chris McGarty
Gifts wrapped by The Countdown Company
Flowers by Bri Roberts of Marigold Flowers
Rentals from Snyder Events
Linens from Nüage Designs


New Year’s Day: A traditional—but distanced—Southern meal in the country

Designer: Melissa Williams, A Charleston Bride
Number of Guests: 6
Location: A Yonges Island backyard
Photographs: Tim Willoughby

Menu by Salthouse Catering

For many families, the holidays are as much about gathering in the kitchen—to chop and stir and chat—as gathering around the table. And there’s no reason to lose that sense of togetherness this year, says Melissa Williams, who helms the event planning firm A Charleston Bride, which she founded in 2001.

Williams planned a New Year’s Day feast that lets a pair of grandparents, two parents, and two children welcome 2021 together, while safely separated. The celebration starts with a cooking session held via Zoom. To avoid any risk of food contamination, each household prepares their own traditional Southern sides: collard greens, hoppin’ John, and corn bread.

Then the younger generations pack up their fare and head for the country, where the hosts have brought the dining room outdoors. A table for the grandparents sits seven feet from one for their brood. “It’s still close enough to promote easy conversation,” assures Williams. She dressed the tables in plaid linens, bird-adorned china, and family silver. Antlers and feathers collected over the years join bowls of fruit in accenting the floral centerpieces.

The host dons gloves and a mask to grill pork chops for everyone, and they sit down to eat first, finishing with individual pecan pies. Afterward, there’s plenty of time for a post-meal croquet tournament. “It’s a fun game that keeps guests at a safe distance apart,” notes Williams. 

The evening ends around the fire pit, with the relatives sharing their resolutions for 2021—penned in booklets made by the host and kept year after year. 

Design by Melissa Williams, A Charleston Bride
Food by Salthouse Catering
Florals by Gathering Events
Calligraphy by Mary Ruth Tribble
Linens by La Tavola
Flatware by Polished Table Top, Ooh! Events
China, glassware, silver adornments, chandeliers, and furniture provided by the A Charleston Bride staff