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As a kid, I looked forward to the hours my family spent decorating the tree, not because of all the tasks involved — hauling the boxes of ornaments down from the attic and climbing on step stools to string up the lights — but because we were allowed to have dinner on the couch in front of the glowing tree that night. It was an exception my parents made as a way to kick off the holiday festivities. We’d order pizza or Chinese food, crank up the holiday tunes, and my sister and I would criticize each other's placement of particular sentimental ornaments.
This couch dinner is something I’ve carried with me ever since — even when I had my own tree to decorate in my first tiny apartment. Now, it’s an occasion my husband and I share in our own home. Every year, we rummage through our ornaments, and, rather than order takeout, we set out a snacky dinner on our coffee table for grazing. The result is a simple yet magical tradition we hope to share for years to come.
The Ultimate Tree Decorating Menu
Gildas (Pickled Pepper, Anchovy, and Olive Skewers)
This Spanish pintxo (small snack) is nothing but a pickled green pepper, anchovy, and pitted green olive threaded onto a long toothpick. Yet, the whole is so much greater than the sum of its parts. It’s spicy, tangy, salty, briny, and savory all at once and pairs oh-so-well with a cold beverage. Make more than you think you’ll eat, and have napkins nearby.
Salty, buttery Marcona almonds are the Cadillac of nuts, in my opinion, but I can rarely justify the splurge. This festive couch party is the perfect excuse. If you’re looking for a more affordable nut, smoked almonds are a solidly tasty alternative.
Hot Honey Baked Brie with Crostini and Crudité
There’s just something about a warm, gooey wheel of baked brie that screams holidays. Place a wheel of brie cheese in a small baking dish and bake at 375°F until softened and warmed through, about 15 minutes. Drizzle with Mike’s Hot Honey or another preferred brand, sprinkle with flaky sea salt, and garnish with a rosemary sprig. Serve with crostini or sliced baguette and a mix of cut apples and raw vegetables like carrots, fennel, endive, and bell peppers.
I like to put out a couple varieties of sliced cured meats, such as prosciutto, soppressata, or pepperoni, to ensure the spread feels hearty. If you’d rather have a vegetarian option, a tub of hummus for your crostini and crudité is a good choice. You can also opt for something from the antipasto bar at the grocery store, like marinated beans or artichoke hearts.
This tree decorating dinner kicks off the festive season in my house, so it calls for something bubbly. A chilled sparkling red, such as a dry Lambrusco, rather than the usual Prosecco or Champagne, is an especially nice cold-weather option. I particularly like Lini 910 Labrusca Lambrusco Rosso. If a non-alcoholic option is more your speed, sparkling water with a blood orange squeeze and garnish feels fancy. (Cans of Spindrift Blood Orange Tangerine Seltzer do the job, too.)
Clementines and Dark Chocolate with Olive Oil and Flaky Salt
Keep the sweets simple by laying out a handful of clementines and dressing up a bar of good dark chocolate. Break up your favorite bar (mine is Tony’s 70% Dark Chocolate), then drizzle it with extra-virgin olive oil, and sprinkle it with a pinch of flaky sea salt.
The (Festive) Mood
If you have a working fireplace nearby, first of all, I am jealous, and second of all, get that thing going. For those of us, like myself, who aren’t blessed with a fireplace, streaming a holiday yule log video adds atmosphere, with its crackling sounds and glowing flames.
How you dress for this occasion is your call, but in the name of all this winter warmth, my husband and I embrace pajamas and slippers — bonus points if the pajamas are holiday-themed (his are emblazoned with polar bears in Santa hats).
And of course, holiday music is non-negotiable.
Simple Tree Decorating Tips
I definitely don’t need to tell you how to decorate your tree because it’s a personal matter. Go for whichever color lights you like (for me it’s white) and your tree topper of choice (we opt for a silver-gold, just-shimmery–enough star). There are, however, a few tips that have proven useful over the years:
Check your lights before stringing them: After a year in storage, dead bulbs are a real thing, so plug in the lights before you’ve wrapped them around your tree to be sure they work.
Affix your tree topper before adding ornaments: I’ve knocked over and broken an ornament or two by waiting until the very end to place my star on top of the tree, so now I put it on after stringing the lights but before hanging the ornaments.
Don’t forget the tree skirt: It might seem fussy, but a tree skirt is for more than just looks. It helps catch pine needles as they fall, leaving you with less of a mess around the tree. If you don’t have one, use a blanket (preferably one you won’t mind covered in sap!).