Beauty and Fashion

“A Ghost or Two Will Prove Invaluable”: Nancy Mitford’s Fabulously Unhinged Guide to Hosting a Country House Christmas

“A Ghost or Two Will Prove Invaluable”: Nancy Mitford’s Fabulously Unhinged Guide to Hosting a Country House Christmas

Never marry a Mitford, as the saying goes, but some of the sisters’ party advice? Golden. In the ’20s and ’30s, long before she published The Pursuit of Love, Nancy Mitford contributed to British Vogue on a number of occasions—hardly surprising, given her close friendship with Cecil Beaton—but never more successfully than at Christmas, when she shared her thoughts on hosting a harmonious gathering at a country pile. Read her hilariously tongue-in-cheek guide to pulling off an acrimony-free party, below.

Christmas is so essentially a time (or should I say, Yule is so essentially a tide?) which ought to be spent in the country, and is so proverbially horrible in London, that the lucky owners of large country houses feel, and rightly, that it is incumbent on them to fill said houses at such a tide (or time) with those of their friends and relations who would otherwise be fated to mope in towns.

Now, to most people, all entertaining is a pleasure. Nevertheless, there can be no doubt that a Christmas party is more difficult to manage than any other sort of house party.

In the first place, there is the Olde Englishe tradition, impossible to break, that members of one family must spend the Yule Feast beneath the same roof/tree. This makes the invitations a perfect nightmare.

“Shall I ask the Golightlys?” says the hostess tentatively.

“Ask George and Edith, by all means,” replies her husband, “but remember, I won’t have that young cub Nigel in this house again.”

This washes out the Golightlys, who would never consent to be parted from their cherished only son at such a time.

“May I ask Maureen Parker and her mother?” enquires the young daughter of the house rather dubiously.

“Certainly not!” comes the stern reply. “I haven’t spoken to Norah Parker for 20 years, and I’m not going to begin now.”

In fact, before a Christmas party of any size can be gathered together, certain hatchets will have to be buried, if only for the duration of the peace and goodwill season. This in itself will not make the party any easier from the hostess’s point of view.

The ideal Christmas house party should be composed of four different elements: the Very Old, the Old, the Young, and the Very Young. The Very Old may be of any age not exceeding 100. They are an invaluable asset because of their looks, their entrancing and scandalous stories about the grandparents of their fellow guests, and because they, together with the great log fire in the hall, form a kind of rallying point for all generations. Besides this, there is a feeling of lifted restraint every time they leave the room, which acts like a tonic on the other guests.

The Old are in most cases the host and hostess, together with their own particular friends, and must be tolerated as such. If treated kindly, they may prove almost human, but if opposed too often and too rudely, they are very apt to turn nasty. The only really odious members of the party will, of course, be those termed the Young, who are almost certain to prove fast, rude, and self-assertive. The hostess should try to arrange that they shall consist entirely of engaged or about-to-become-engaged couples, as they will then be much less in evidence, while their only asset, a certain decorative value, will be definitely enhanced. (Owing to the Olde Englishe tradition already referred to, it will be found impossible to exclude them altogether.) The Very Young, however, make up for everything and everybody else in sweetness, goodness, and funniness, and it only seems sad to expose them to the appalling example set by the Young.

Having gathered the party together, more or less to her own liking, the hostess is now faced with the task of keeping this miscellaneous connection of different ages and tastes occupied and, if possible, amused. The really important thing for her to aim at is to produce a true Yuletide spirit. In an atmosphere of holly, mistletoe, brandy-snapping, and turkey, many differences can be forgotten, many old feuds wiped out. To accentuate this atmosphere, let villagers carol incessantly outside the windows (they will do so anyhow with the smallest encouragement). A ghost or two will prove invaluable, and if one of the guests should happen to come across a moldering skeleton in some dim nook or forgotten chest, so much the better; it will provide a wonderful topic for conversation. A dainty thought for millionaire hosts would be to sprinkle the window ledges and grounds with synthetic snow during Christmas Eve and let their guests wake to the merry sound of sleigh bells (rung by the gardener’s boy on the roof), while a few starved robins might hop about the snow-covered garden beds.

The mention of Christmas Eve now brings us to the all-important question of stockings, on which the failure or success of a Christmas party largely depends. Who is to fill them? When? And with what?

The guests, on going to bed, will, of course, hang up their stockings. These could be filled during the night by a) the host, or b) the butler, dressed up as Father Christmas. But this is a method which has led in the past to misunderstandings of a most lurid nature, to people being driven insane with fear, and even to shooting tragedies. It is, however picturesque, a clumsy and inept device, not at all in accordance with modern labor-saving ideas. No! Let the host and hostess, weeks before Christmas, and in the privacy of their room, fill a quantity of plain worsted stockings with suitable gifts. On the fateful morning, let the housemaid, on entering each visitor’s room, carefully replace the empty stocking dangling on the bedpost with the bulging, worsted one. She may then say to the sleeper, “Eight o’clock, madam or sir, and your stocking, if you please.”

The contents of the stocking will vary with age and sex, but should be, roughly, as follows: a ball of string, a packet of safety pins, a golden sovereign, a chocolate baby, a paper book of funny stories, a French china ornament of the more questionable variety, a packet of Lucky Strikes, a banana, a whistle, Old Moore’s Almanack, a bandana handkerchief, a lipstick and an apple (for the toe). More expensive presents, if any, should be given later from the Christmas tree, or those of the guests who are faced before breakfast with diamond cufflinks and the prospect of giving in return the chintz tie-boxes they have selected as suitable for their host might flee the house in shame and horror. Later, the chintz tie-boxes having been duly given, and after a large champagne dinner, they will be delighted with whatever they receive.

Christmas Day, from the hostess’s point of view, may present its little difficulties, but it is the smoothest sailing when compared to Boxing Day, which may well prove to be her Waterloo. Its lack of posts and newspapers combines with a feeling of liverish anticlimax to make it the horridest day of the year. Her only hope will be to ensure, by sending to each bedroom a fresh hot-water bottle, a tasteful breakfast tray, and a new detective novel, that all the guests shall stay in bed till luncheon time. During the afternoon, they should, if possible, be induced to walk or run, but if the torrents of drenching rain prevent this, they could be taken out in motorcars to see some local sight.

That evening, being the last of the visit, may be enlivened by that interesting game in which the women of the party mark each other 100 for unselfishness and four for beauty.

After a Christmas party run on these lines, everyone will go back to their homes in the true spirit of peace and goodwill.

Written by
Jackson Fashionista

Greetings, fashionistas! I'm Jackson, setting trends and redefining beauty in the world of fashion. Join me in exploring the latest styles, beauty tips, and the art of expressing individuality through fashion. Let's make every day a stylish adventure!

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