Guerilla Guide to the Holidays: It's Retro Christmas!

Guerilla Guide to the Holidays: It's Retro Christmas!

Ray-Bans aren't the only piece of the past worth revisiting.

There are also old-school photos, discreetly boozy drinks and Judy Garland. Let’s go ahead and combine all three: It’s Retro Christmas.

This year, we’re planning to enjoy what we call “Retro Christmas”: A return to holidays past, when the season was about togetherness rather than excess gifts, affection rather than perfection.

Although scaling down our celebrations means spending less money, that's not the point.

We've put together our plan for making this year special ... and focused on elegance, simplicity and genuine holiday spirit. In the end, our goal is to spend time with the people we care about. Of course, while we call this "Retro Christmas," you can adjust most of our tips for whatever winter holidays you celebrate (except maybe for our advice on ornamenting your tree).

Here’s to Christmas in sepia!

Gift as a Group

alt To make gift-giving as meaningful as possible, concentrate on quality rather than quantity. So, instead of buying something just because you need to get a gift, get one that you know will be cherished, even if that means going in with a group of family or friends.

One easy aid is Share a Gift, a website that allows people to make donations toward a communal gift. It uses PayPal and organizes money better than the usual cash collection.

For a retro twist, we love the idea of wrapping a package in brown paper (butcher block paper from your local craft store works well, as do paper bags from the grocery store turned inside out), with a red ribbon tied around it and garnished with a sprig of holly—real or fake. As an added perk, this eliminates the need for a gift tag or card, as you can just write your message on the wrapping.

A Retro Tree

altDress your tree in décor that has history and meaning. One easy rule of thumb: Only hang ornaments from years past that have true sentimental value. Then invite your craftiest friends to help you make these decorations and enjoy some festive togetherness.

This year, we're making vintage-looking cork ornaments. They're simple but elegant, made out of found objects that may or may not have memories of their own.

Here's what you'll need:

  • Red ribbon to use as hangers
  • As many wine corks as you can get (eBay is brilliant for this)
  • Sewing pins
  • Glue (optional)
  • White tree lights

For each wine cork, cut a length of of red ribbon and make it into a loop. Secure the ribbon loop to the end of your cork by running a pin or tack straight through the overlapped ends and into the cork. Hang the ornament up on the tree from the looped end. If you want, cut another length of ribbon and tie in a bow. To keep it from unraveling, dab some glue in the knot, then glue or pin the bow to the cork. Adorn the rest of your tree with simple white lights to highlight the red ribbons.

New Life to Old Treats

altThough it's in the lyrics of "We Wish You a Merry Christmas," most people we know have never actually tried figgy pudding. To regain the lost wisdom of past chefs, we're planning our dessert table around the classics.

First, fruitcake—we’ve found a delicious twist that will regain its good name. Martha Stewart’s recipe for mini fruitcakes with a honey glaze is palatable to even the most stubborn Grinch.

Next, traditional figgy pudding (not actually a pudding; that's how Brits say "dessert") is steamed, but we're planning to make this cake-like version, which uses the taste of figs in a more familiar form. Opt in or out of the rum sauce!

Old-Fashioned Drinks

Few winter festivities are complete without adult beverages. And we don’t mean Uncle Burt's glass of straight whiskey. We’re sticking to drinks as old as Uncle Burt himself: mulled cider and eggnog.

  • Mulled cider: This drink is delicious with or without the rum, so feel free to eliminate the liquor if you’d prefer. We like Nigella Lawson’s recipe, which takes an hour to prepare, or Rachael Ray’s ten-minute version if you're under more of a time crunch.
  • Eggnog: One of our holiday favorites! We like this recipe, which can handily be scaled to serving size, or the liquor-free version.

Make It a Party

Nat King Cole is on repeat and "Meet Me in St. Louis" is playing on mute, but the best part of your gathering is your guests. We suggest you keep it to ten people or fewer, which leaves enough space to lead some party activities ... and keeps your soiree demure enough to actually hear each other.

We're going to level with you ... Victorian party games were terrible. Think old-timers blowing balls of wool around a table or Simon Says with a really complicated script. To bring you the retro spirit of fun party games without making you whip out the wool, here are our favorite ways to engage your guests. And they don't require any materials other than a sharp wit.


altThis is a surefire way to create new memories—how can a bunch of people miming celebrity personalities not lead to ridiculousness?

  • Split into two teams.
  • Every person in a circle writes the name of a celeb on a slip of paper, puts it in a hat and everyone draws a slip.
  • Go around the circle three times: The first time, a person can use entire sentences to describe the celeb, and members of her team guess. A point for each correct guess.
  • On the second round, guests draw a different slip and may only use one word to describe the paper.
  • Third round: actions only.
  • For a retro twist, limit yourselves to celebrities from past decades. Quick: His song “White Christmas” came from the 1942 movie “Holiday Inn,” in which he starred with Fred Astaire. (Guesses in the comments!)

“How’s Yours?”

It's a game that we could easily imagine Uncle Burt playing. Cover the children’s ears.

  • One person leaves the room, and while she is absent, the rest of the group settles on a body part.
  • When she returns, she asks each person “How’s yours?” They reply with cryptic adjectives. (For example, the body part is earlobe and replies include “flexible,” “useless” and “detached.”)
  • Once the guesser gets it, she sends another person out in her stead. And the rest of the guests keep knocking back that mulled cider …

Four Retro Approaches ...

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As you play, break out that decidedly non-retro iPhone and document the night in Instagram. Designate a photographer, or take turns shooting the tree and posing in front of it. Think how fabulous it will look on Facebook! (Potential album title: Old School Christmas, 12/24/46.)

A New Twist on Old-School Caroling

Rather than waking the neighbors with a pitchy rendition of "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen," try combining caroling and karaoke (and liberal amounts of mulled wine). Whip out the aforementioned iPhone and use a karaoke app such as Karaoke Anywhere for your favorite Christmas songs!

No matter which holiday you celebrate, we hope that this will be one for the history books. If you have kids, check out these Retro Christmas ideas for the whole family, including popcorn garlands, roasted chestnuts and more.


For More Holiday Cheer...

Don't forget the old-fashioned value of giving back. Here's our guide to holiday giving.
Homemade cards are budget-friendly, and also just friendly. Find a memorable one in our guide to holiday cards.
Keep the craftiness coming by making a chic DIY gift for your loved ones. These are our eight favorites.



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