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Setting the Scene For Your Christmas Fete

To create a Dickensian Christmas for your holiday fete - remember the story: "It was his own room. There was no doubt about that. But it had undergone a surprising transformation."

Begin by planning your backdrop - your setting; decorations, centerpieces, and table coverings. Keep a Victorian theme in mind. Key words: elaborate, ornate, candle lit, frills, and gilded gold. Cover your tables with festive cloths or linens, a fabulous large scarf, an old patchwork quilt, a piece of organza or lace from the fabric shop, or swirls of fancy ribbon.

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Whatever you cover your tables with could become soiled, so don't use something so precious it couldn't be cleaned or replaced. Napkins (serviettes) should be cloth and can match your table covering, or use an accent color. Tie them with a bit of ribbon or lace - add a sprig of holly, keep it festive and specific to the holiday season.

Trim the doorways of your living and dining rooms with greenery, pepper berries, and fresh fruits - wire them into the greenery. Fabric bows and wire-edged ribbon make for wonderful trim. Drape greenery around your front door or porch. Have your Christmas tree fully decorated and aglow.

Use centerpieces donned with natural items, go au natural with twigs, pine cones, and berries. With a can of gold spray paint and a glue gun you can do wonders. Make beautiful table trees of fruits and vegetables - all green with burgundy or red accents.

Start with a 12-inch Styrofoam cone. Using larger vegetables and fruits, place a toothpick in each and work from the bottom up, using smaller fruits and vegetables toward the top. Use apples, limes, firm chile peppers, broccoli florets, Brussels sprouts, and top the tree with a tiny artichoke. In the pockets between the larger items, put in red berries, cranberries, or small red or burgundy wired bulbs.

Go big into gold leaf - you can gild almost everything such as a wreath made of individually painted dried bay leaves glue-gunned onto a circular grape vine, or gilded hand-made paper ornaments.

Iced cookies, fancy gingerbread men, deep colored boiled sweets (hard candy), and dramatic chocolate truffles set on crystal or festive plates make lovely edible decorations for side tables. Candles in candlesticks add an ambiance of festivity and formality. Sugared fruit in baskets or glass bowls make a spectacular impression - as one might say in England, 'Polishing up one's marble' (translation: making a good impression).

In making sugared fruit, use fruit that is not overly soft such as apples, pears, grapes, figs, lemons, limes, and oranges.

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Whip an egg white with one teaspoon of water, and apply a thin coat of the mixture onto the fruit with a pastry brush, then sprinkle or gently roll the fruit in superfine sugar.

Place fruit on a wire baker's rack for several hours or until dry. Set the finished fruit in a basket, a clear glass or crystal bowl, or footed silver dish.

Don't forget the Christmas crackers, no not the biscuits. These delightful decorated cardboard cylinders that snap, and pop open when pulled at both ends, contain a paper hat, trinket, and a motto.

These crackers fit well into a Dickensian Christmas theme. Place the Christmas crackers in a bowl or basket and pass one to each guest before they eat - make sure they all wear their paper hats through the dinner hour and share each of their mottoes aloud.

Christmas crackers are easily found here in the United States, even at discount department stores.

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