Hicks may be thousands of miles from England, but she finds ways to incorporate that heritage into daily life, especially during her “very English Christmas” in the Caribbean. We spoke with Hicks about her favorite holiday traditions and got her advice on setting an English-inspired Christmas table. Her advice, given by phone and email, has been edited for space and clarity.
Q: What does a "very English Christmas" entail?
A: Oh my gosh, everything! We’ll host a very traditional English Christmas lunch for about 30 friends and assemble a table underneath the palm trees. We’ll have Christmas carols and a gigantic turkey with lots of stuffing, potatoes and bread pudding — leaving us with leftovers in the fridge for weeks. And there will be plenty of champagne. In England, I grew up with eggnog being served at the Christmas table, but we don’t do that in the Bahamas. We’ll have a Christmas pudding — which is something that people either love or hate — and set fire to it, as well as a Christmas cake, brandy butter and mince pies.
Q: Does your family have a Christmas tree?
A: We live in the tropics and celebrate Christmas on the island, so we are traditional but with the slight challenge of heat. We have a Christmas tree shipped to us every year, which arrives on a boat from Nassau and, before that, probably the United States. But by the time it reaches us, it’s a little thirsty, so we place it in a big bucket of water on the pink sand and give it a long, solid drink.
Q: What's your favorite holiday tradition or ritual?
A: We always decorate the tree as a family. To begin with, there was great excitement surrounding that moment, but now there’s normally a lot of eye rolls from our kids. And of course, when they’re young, all the decorations get placed very, very low down on the tree and tend to be piled in one place. So, when they’ve gone to bed we redecorate it.
Q: What do you think is the most important aspect of holiday decorating?
A: Not taking yourself too seriously. This is an instance where I really do believe more is more. I go over-the-top with everything from gift-wrapping to table-laying and even the decorations in my shop on the island, the Sugar Mill.
Q: How are you planning to decorate your table?
A: We decorate our holiday table with a different Christmas theme every year. Last year, we had big bowls of blue-and-white china, filled with oranges, dried wood and peppers, and a lot of green fir branches from our Christmas tree. The table smelled wonderful! This year, our table will feature some beautiful scarlet garland napkins that I design and sell, which have my family crest on them in gold. We also like to mix in pine cones, to represent where we hail from, and palm frond, to represent the tropics where we live.
Q: Do you have any tips on designing a holiday tablescape?
A: There are easy ways to make things feel Christmas-y, such as bringing out a red tartan tablecloth, decorative napkins and a lot of good lighting to make the table feel warm, inviting and festive. I don’t think you can ever go wrong with decorating in traditional Christmas colors, such as dark green and red.
And be imaginative! We tend to fill our table with lots of Christmas crackers, drinks and beautiful Christmas plates, which are a lovely bone china and feature hand-painted Christmas trees.
Q: What about outdoor decorating this time of year?
A: We have a wreath on our front door, and although the base stays the same, we like to refresh it. We’ll add a big tartan ribbon and dried fruit, which is lovely and smells good.
Q: Did your father influence your holiday decorating style?
A: He did not do holidays. We’d always be together but would celebrate the holiday with my grandfather on my mother’s side (Lord Louis Mountbatten, the last viceroy of India) at his house (in Hampshire). We’d have a big Christmas lunch that was served at a specific time, with a huge tin of quality sweets — mince pies, brandy butter, all of that. It was a formal, laid-out table that would always be made up with silver.
Q: Do you think these formal celebrations inspired you to do more formal decorating around the holidays?
A: I don’t think they inspired me to do more formal decorating, but I think they certainly set the scene for family traditions and British customs, such as setting fire to your Christmas cake, or hiding the halfpenny inside it for someone to find for good luck for the rest of the year — or to break their tooth on. Christmas crackers, party hats and silly jokes are essential ingredients to the traditional British Christmas, even if celebrating it on an island in the tropics.
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