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Celebrating the Season

The date was the Saturday before Christmas eve—and while most people’s calendars are full by this time, that didn’t stop Tim Reily from having a last-minute dinner party for 12 that night. What inspired him was the Christmas village he had set up in the entranceway. Tim had stopped doing it for about seven years, and through the urging of his daughters, he decided this was the year to start again. It ended up looking so good that, “It deserved a celebration,” says Tim. With the Christmas village complete, it was time to get to work organizing the party—during the busy holiday season.
Tim, though, already had some ideas about what he wanted—that it be a seafood and game dinner—and since Bev Church and Marianne Mumford were already over decorating the house, he asked them to help organize the fête. Church, author of three entertaining books, was put in charge of the party, while Mumford kept on decorating the house—this in addition to other clients they had as well. Crossing her fingers that he was available, Church rounded up John Rowland of Southern Hospitality Catering, who worked with Tim to create the evening’s menu. Rowland composed a four-course meal that started with passed hors d’oeuvres of crisp cold-smoked catfish fingers and smoked duck wontons. The first course was chilled vichyssoise (though not really game or seafood, but as Tim says, “I just like it.”), followed by baby spinach salad topped with cornmeal-crusted oysters, which is similar to the one at Jacques-Imo’s that Tim admired. There were two entrées: grilled venison chop, and foie gras and wild mushroom-stuffed quail. Dessert was an opulent crepes Suzette.
The guest list of 12 had been decided upon (though originally 14, two people had to bow out), though at this late date, mailed invitations would never make it in time, and just a phone call didn’t seem quite right. Church constructed mini-Christmas houses that she found at Royal Box and placed a battery powered red light inside, so the windows glowed red. The invitations were then hand delivered to the guests. The Christmas village, which took Tim and a design student from Loyola University 50 hours to set up, was where Church got the idea for the invitation.
Soon it was the day of the party—the Christmas tree was adorned, the front of the house and the stairway was festooned with garland and illuminated by tiny white lights. Soon Church was busy at work decorating the dining room. She used the color from Tim’s new china, the coral-hued Raynaud Cristobal as the basis for the floral arrangements of red roses and pink anemones set in gold-leafed pots. Small topiaries were placed in between and large gingerbread houses—three of six made by chef Shane Gorringe of Zoe’s Bakery—were placed in the center. On the sideboard Church put two larger topiaries with tiny white lights, which also had Casablanca lilies and more red roses placed in the base. Another gingerbread house was used there, and like on the dining room table, low votive candles created a warm hue. Instead of place cards, Bev individualized the wine glasses with guests’ names.
Darkness finally fell, guests arrived, cocktails were served, conversation commenced, and most importantly, the Christmas village was all lit up. Full of houses and figures from the Heritage Village Collection, when twilight hits, with tiny white lights glowing, figures skating and a train rolls through, the snowy village takes upon a magical, mythological feel. This year, there was one house that took on a particular air of importance —the Louisiana State University house, because Tim is an enthusiastic LSU football fan, and at the time, LSU was going to the Sugar Bowl (and then on to win it, as we all know). The Christmas village surely did shine brightly again. •

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