The 2016 Christmas Mix CD

The 2016 Christmas Mix CD via Chrystina Noel

Y’all. I disappeared. Did anybody notice? I think we call that having a day job. And sending 150 Christmas cards. I’m hoping to relax enough over the course of the next two weeks that I can kick off the year strong in 2017. Fingers crossed. But in the meantime, I really want to share this year’s Christmas Mix CD with you.

If you’re new to the game you may not know that I’ve been making Christmas Mix CDs for at least the past 8 years. That said, only 2013, 2014, and 2015 have been memorialized on the blog.

I always stress out about finding the exact right songs for the CDs. Which I know is silly. But think about it, every year you have less and less song options because there are only so many new songs that are released every year. Except for 2016. 2016 was apparently the year of all of the CD releases. Everybody thought to themselves, damn, 2016 was kind of a crappy year, I’m going to write a Christmas album to make it a little bit better. So here we are. I would highly recommend checking out (in this order):

So needless to say, this year was pretty easy. To the point that it was actually hard because I had too many versions of I’ll Be Home for Christmas that I wanted to use on the CD. This year, on the car ride to Connecticut for Thanksgiving I decided it would be fun to rank my top holiday songs of all-time. In order to be considered to be a holiday song (for me) more than one person needs to have recorded it. Here’s what I learned:

Chrystina’s Top Five Christmas Songs

  1. I’ll Be Home For Christmas
  2. Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas
  3. Mary, Did You Know?
  4. Merry Christmas, Darling
  5. The First Noel

Here’s something else I learned. Almost all of my least favorite songs have something to do with animals.

Chrystina’s Bottom Five Christmas Songs

  1. Up On the Housetop
  2. Dominic the Donkey
  3. I Want A Hippopotamus For Christmas
  4. Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer
  5. Frosty The Snowman

Now don’t get me wrong, there are definitely exceptions to the rule. I once worked on a job site where at the end of one of the days very close to Christmas Dominic the Donkey came on in the trailer and one of the bosses and I polka-ed around the trailer. That was a really great moment. He’s unfortunately passed away since then. Then there was A Great Big World’s version of I Want A Hippopotamus for Christmas. And of course, Zee Avi’s version of Frosty the Snowman. Those definitely pass the test.

(This is apparently what happens when I take a break from blogging, I have far too much to say when I get back.)

So, yet again, if you have been around for a while, you know that I’ve started recording my own Christmas songs each year with some help form Matt Campana. The first year I recorded Santa Baby. The second year I recorded The Christmas Song. This year I recorded Silent Night in the style of Joan Osborne. Actually, Matt did the piano on the track, which was really cool.

Now, I’ve got to tell you. This was a weird  year to record for me. I haven’t sung consistently in over a year, and I’ve got to tell you. I could definitely feel it while recording. But we recorded a bunch of takes, drank a little beer, and everything turned out pretty well in the end. I am definitely anxious to find a place to start singing consistently again though.

So without further ado, I introduce to you, the 2016 Christmas Mix CD.

The 2016 Christmas Mix CD

  1. Rascal Flatts – Joy to the World
  2. Susan Egan – All Those Christmas Cliches
  3. Kacey Musgraves – Ribbons and Bows
  4. Amy Grant & Vince Gill – Baby, It’s Cold Outside
  5. Pentatonix – God Rest Ye Merry Genetlemen
  6. Chris Young – Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)
  7. Aretha Franklin – Kissin’ By The Mistletoe
  8. The Girl and the Dreamcatcher – Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas
  9. Michael Mott – Christmas, Will You Stay?
  10. Peter Hollens – December Song (A Cappella)
  11. Jordan Richmond – O Come O Come Emmanuel
  12. Leslin Odom, Jr. – I’ll Be Home for Christmas
  13. Megan Hilty – The Christmas Song
  14. Zac Brown Band & Sara Bareilles – Christmas Tree
  15. Chrystina Noel – Silent Night
  16. Daniel Ellsworth & Alva Leigh – It’s Christmas, I Love You
  17. Marc Broussard – Auld Lang Syne
  18. Voctave – This Is My Wish / Let There Be Peace On Earth

If you’d like to listen to the mix you can check it out on Spotify below. Hope you all are having a wonderful holiday season!!

A Simple Christmas Tea Party Table Setting

A Simple Christmas Tea Party Table Setting via Chrystina Noel

As promised, here’s a look at a simple Christmas table setting I put together. The past few table settings (Halloween, and Thanksgiving) I have been doing were for a full meal, but for Christmas I decided to go with a Christmas Tea Party table setting.

Instead of focusing on what items I started with before setting the table this time, I’m going to focus on the process.

Talk a walk around the house.

Get an idea of what you’re looking for in your head. I knew that I was looking for things that were red, green, and white. When I took a walk around the house I realized exactly how easy this was going to be. All of my kitchen accessories are red, and it was really easy to find red, green, white, silver, and gold teas to serve on the tray.

Mix patterns with solids

Once I chose to use my Christmas dishes (which I’ve never actually) had the chance to use before, I knew that the cups needed to be pretty plain. A dark  green would have been best, but I decided that the white ones had a clean, sleek look.

Add some nature

Bringing the outdoors in is a great way to make your table feel balanced. There were excellent intentions of getting greenery for this table. I went to Trader Joe’s. I bought flowers and greenery. I left them at the office. Then I couldn’t find time to get back to the office before setting the table. It sounds a lot like what happens during a real party, not going to lie. So I decided to use the large pine cones that Ben got at Sequoia National Park. They’ve got a nice winter vibe to them.

Use what you already have

I didn’t buy very much for this table setting (only the flowers, which never made it home). I had the plates and the napkins downstairs. I used a few of the candy canes and Andes mints from the hot chocolate bar. I’m still using the nametags I made last year (and will continue to until I run out). When I went downstairs I found the tree stump serving platter that I’ve been looking for an excuse to use which nicely complements the pine cones. And the tea tray I had bought for afternoon tea; I just added a little bit of ribbon to it. (There’s a chance I need to work on my ribbon skills.

Make the table functional

After the last party I had where I decorated the table nicely and the second the party started we moved everything off the table I’ve been a little weary of going over the top again. I tried to keep the center of the table pretty clear so that all we needed to move was the pine cones to create some extra space. It also means that people can see each other easier.

A Simple Christmas Tea Party Table Setting via Chrystina Noel

A Simple Christmas Tea Party Table Setting via Chrystina Noel

A Simple Christmas Tea Party Table Setting via Chrystina Noel

A Simple Christmas Tea Party Table Setting via Chrystina Noel

A Simple Christmas Tea Party Table Setting via Chrystina Noel

A Simple Christmas Tea Party Table Setting via Chrystina Noel

A Simple Christmas Tea Party Table Setting via Chrystina Noel

A Simple Christmas Tea Party Table Setting via Chrystina Noel

A Simple Christmas Tea Party Table Setting via Chrystina Noel

A Simple Christmas Tea Party Table Setting via Chrystina Noel

A Simple Christmas Tea Party Table Setting via Chrystina Noel

In my walk around the house I did pull out a few things to use that I couldn’t figure out how to incorporate. They were: a silver platter, Mardi Gras beads, candles, and a red vase.

I love this (fake) silver platter. I just wish it had more height to it. I may need to buy some of those small cake stands so that I can change the levels of my dishes to add more dimension to the table. Also, it kind of clashed with the rectangular white plate.

As for the Mardi Gras beads, I couldn’t figure out a pretty way to lay them down. If I had more or ones that matched I might have been able to put them in some vases or make a chain to drape them all the way across the table.

A Simple Christmas Tea Party Table Setting via Chrystina Noel
A Simple Christmas Tea Party Table Setting via Chrystina Noel

I also tried to use both extra tall candles and super short candles. I couldn’t use the extra tall ones because they’re not white. (I should really buy some white candles, they seem like they would be useful.) And the short candles, yet again, didn’t seem to add enough height to the table. (And sometimes they still seem like a hazard.)

Also. My intention was totally to use this red vase. (Or at least a vase.) But then I forgot the flowers at the office and I couldn’t figure out what else to put in them. If I had branches I could cut off the bottom of a tree or sticks outside I think those would have worked nicely. Unfortunately, we got our tree about 6 hours too late and I live in the city.

A Simple Christmas Tea Party Table Setting via Chrystina Noel
A Simple Christmas Tea Party Table Setting via Chrystina Noel

That said, I’m sure all of these items will get to be used soon. I’m excited to keep sharing these tables with you. I hope they inspire you to add a little festivity to your own Christmas parties this year. Can’t wait to start working on a New Year’s table for y’all. I hope not to forget the flowers this time.

PS. This table cloth situation. I actually can’t get the wrinkles out of it. My iron hates me and my dryer doesn’t get hot enough to produce steam. Anybody have any suggestions?

A Hot Chocolate Bar

Last weekend was the 14th Annual Christmas Cookie Swap. The guest list includes people from all different points of my life, and this year I took it to a new extreme. There were people with whom I went to middle school, high school, and college. There were some family members, some of my sister’s friends I’ve gotten to know over the years, and the lady who lives downstairs – and at one point my neighbors I have grown up with (all 6 of them) came over to crash the party (who were, of course, welcomed wholeheartedly). It was quite the crew.

As you may have noticed, I’ve been trying hard to step up my party game in the past few months. I’ve been working on setting the whole stage, putting consideration into decorating, and planning out activities for the party. That said, this party doesn’t take place at my house, I couldn’t find any flowers that felt Christmas-y enough at Trader Joe’s, and the activities for this party have always kind of been laid out: eat cookies and sing Christmas carols. Exhibit A:

A Christmas Cookie Swap & a Hot Chocolate Bar via Chrystina Noel

Of course, y’all already knew about the party favor bags. I set those up in the entrance way so that people would see them before they left. In retrospect, I probably should have made a sign that said, “take one of these when you leave.” But they looked great, and the people I remembered to tell were excited to take a treat bag when they left.

A Christmas Cookie Swap & a Hot Chocolate Bar via Chrystina Noel

The biggest addition to the party this year was a spiked hot chocolate bar. They’re all the rage on Pinterest these days. (Exhibit B, Exhibit C, Exhibit D, Exhibit E)

5 Steps to Make a Hot Chocolate Bar

  1. Lay out the mugs.
  2. Don’t forget to buy the hot chocolate.
  3. Make a sign. I found a chalk board in the children’s play drawer in my kitchen. It was hot pink so I covered the edges of it in green wrapping paper.
  4. Add in some flavors. Flavors can be alcoholic: godiva liquor, kahlua, baileys, vanilla vodka or non alcoholic: candy canes, peppermints, and marshmallows.
  5. Pour on the toppings. Don’t forget the whipped cream, but then remember that you can decorate the whipped cream with sprinkles, mini chocolate chips, or chocolate shavings.

Here’s how it turned out:

A Christmas Cookie Swap & a Hot Chocolate Bar via Chrystina Noel

A Christmas Cookie Swap & a Hot Chocolate Bar via Chrystina Noel

A Christmas Cookie Swap & a Hot Chocolate Bar via Chrystina Noel

A Christmas Cookie Swap & a Hot Chocolate Bar via Chrystina Noel

I’ve learned through the years that not everyone is going to want to use the hot chocolate bar. And not all of the toppings are going to get used – especially with wine to drink. So setting out only a few glasses was absolutely alright. One thing I would consider doing differently is having the hot chocolate pre-made as opposed to needing to turn the kettle on every time we wanted a cup, but I think it went well for the first year. Maybe next year I’ll get one of those pendant banners that are all the rage. We’ll see.

The food staple of this party is always the stuffed breads. The party starts at 7, so most people have eaten ahead of time, but the stuffed breads are a great way to tide people over and provide some balance to all of the cookies for the swap. Ben suggested getting pretzels in Philadelphia before we left to take to Connecticut. They were a big hit! That said, 21 pretzels was far too many, next year I would do 15. Yet again, not everybody wants a pretzel.

A Christmas Cookie Swap & a Hot Chocolate Bar via Chrystina Noel

And then there were a few new additions to our line-up. I’ve been on a chili kick recently, so we had chili available for anybody who wanted it. Then I bought two cheeses (the delice de bourgogne was gone by the end of the night), carrots, and hummus.

A Christmas Cookie Swap & a Hot Chocolate Bar via Chrystina Noel

The final touch I added this year was cookie name tags. Usually we just make people guess what type of cookies they are, but I think putting out the signs really helped this year. From year’s past I’ve learned that what happens is everybody brings about cookies, we all eat cookies while we are there, and then most people don’t take any cookies when they leave so I end up with a bunch. So this year I told everybody not to aim for only 30 cookies. (I still had a lot left over…)

A Christmas Cookie Swap & a Hot Chocolate Bar via Chrystina Noel

I never actually took a picture of the table full of cookies because I was too caught up in the hustle and bustle of saying hello, getting people drinks, attempting to figure out what was wrong with the bottle of chardonnay I opened and offered to my friends fiancee that I met for the first time, and putting on a Christmas performance with Biz and Kerry (usually we have more than just 3 people around the piano, but this year it was 3 people around the piano and about 15 watching… it made me wish we had rehearsed…).

Anyway. That’s it. I hope you’re inspired to make your own hot chocolate bar! It was fun!

Sending Your Holiday Cards

It’s almost December, which means it’s time to start thinking about sending holiday cards this year. I wrote a post a few weeks ago about how I was a little bit overwhelmed with all my greeting card sending, but I think I’ve got it under control for now. (Once I catch up on birthday cards again that is.)

So now that I’ve got a grasp on my own holiday card list, it’s time to help you get yours under wraps as well. Let’s do this –

Other Ways to Say Happy Holidays Other Ways to Say Happy Holidays

2011 Christmas Cards

Make Your List & Check It Twice

Decide who from your life is going to be getting a holiday card this year. Think about the people who have made an impact, the people you would like to stay in touch with, the people that always send you holiday cards, and your family members.

Choose Your Cards

There are so many great options for cards nowadays. You can order a box of cards. You can browse Etsy. You can make a photo card on one of multiple sites. You can design your own cards and print them. Or you can hand-make them. Decide what’s going to be easiest for you and pull the trigger. This is the most important part. Once you have the cards, you’re more likely to go through with sending it.

I decided a few years ago that each group of people in my life was going to get a different type of card (some of which I ordered). This mostly just makes things more interesting for me because I send so many. I have 58 more cards to make this year. It’s going to be a busy weekend.

Christmas and New Year's Cards 2012, front

2012 Christmas Cards

Buy Stamps

This is probably the second most important part. Once you have cards and stamps (especially if they’re holiday stamps) there’s no going back. Figure out when your local post office has no line and stop by then, or you can order them online by creating a USPS account and they’ll send them straight to your door. (They don’t usually fit in a mail slot though.)

Write the Envelopes First

This might seem counter-intuitive, but I’ve found that it really works for me. After I write all of the holiday cards there’s nothing I want to do less than write envelopes. It’s such a mindless task that it’s a great thing to do while you’re catching up on Netflix. I usually write the person’s name, the return address, and put the stamp, then I figure out the address later.

Chrystina Noel You're My Favorite Holiday Card
Chrystina Noel Believe Card
Chrystina Noel Merry Holiday Card
Chrystina Noel Ugly Sweater Card

2014 holiday cards

Personalize the Message

It doesn’t need to be fancy or complicated, just include a personalized message to the receiver. Throw on your favorite holiday album and start writing! Include their name, wish them a Merry Christmas / Happy Holidays / Happy New Year’s / Happy Hanukah / Happy Kwanza, and then include something specific to them i.e. it was so great to see you this year, thanks so much for helping me out, I’m so glad you were able to celebrate with me, have fun baking all your holiday cookies this year, can’t wait to see you soon, etc. I have a whole blog post about different ways to say happy holidays if you’re looking to expand your repertoire.

Gather Addresses

There’s a few way to do this. You can also create an online account at Postable to collect people’s physical addresses. (This is on my to-do list because it seems easier to maintain than my stack of index cards.) That said, I usually just end up texting or emailing people right after I finish writing their card asking what their address is unless I’m 100% sure they didn’t move.

Send Your Cards

If you’re lucky enough to live in the burbs with one of those fancy mailboxes that you put the red flag up and they take the mail you have, you don’t even need to leave your property to send your cards. Otherwise, find a blue mailbox on your walk to work, and call it a day. You’re all done!

Chrystina Noel Handmade Christmas Cards (4)Chrystina Noel Handmade Christmas Cards (3)

2015 Holiday Cards with Stamps from Hero Arts

Have you started on your holiday cards yet? Do you have any tips to make the process go better?.

PS. If you have any interest in playing Chrystina Noel Christmas BINGO, please let me know in an email or the comments below! (Essentially I will snail mail you a BINGO card and then post numbers on my blog. Whoever gets a whole row of numbers first wins.)