This Is How Martha Stewart Has Celebrated Christmas Over the Years
It should be no surprise that Martha Stewart's love for the Christmas holiday came from all the years she spent celebrating the holiday with her mother, affectionately known as Big Martha, and her five siblings while growing up in her childhood home. "When I was growing up in a middle-class family of eight in Nutley, New Jersey, Christmas was our most intensely celebrated holiday," Martha shared in Martha Stewart Living's December 2016 issue. "We baked; we cooked; we decorated with boughs and artificial snow. We always stayed at home, surrounded by our family, lots of relatives, many friends, and modest gifts."
Fast forward to today, and many Americans across the nation can't help but associate the perfect Christmas soirée with Martha herself—our founder has inspired millions with her holiday recipes, crafts and decorating ideas, and entertaining finesse when it comes to hosting family and friends for a true Noel celebration. Much of Martha's best holiday inspiration comes from her own personal traditions that are still very much part of her family's annual festivities. "Our holiday still begins with dinner on December 24: potato pancakes, applesauce, and homemade doughnuts filled with raspberry jam," Martha wrote in her editor's column for the December 2014 issue of Martha Stewart Living. "On Christmas Day, we have a big brunch not unlike the dinners I had as a child...Family gatherings have become the central holiday rituals, the cornerstones of our lives. Even if symbols are mixed and practices altered, tradition remains essential. And to me, the traditions that unite us, rather than divide us, are the most essential of all."
There are so many traditions that Martha honors in the days leading up to Christmas: Our founder decorates her Bedford home from head to foot; cooks and bakes time-honored recipes for hours on end; wraps homemade gifts; greets her closest friends for festive gatherings; and, of course, gears up to spend quality time with her daughter, Alexis, and two beloved grandchildren, Jude and Truman. Follow along as we share Martha's Christmas traditions and all the details on how our founder has celebrated over the years, which may inspire traditions all your own.
Hosting Christmas Brunch
You may associate Christmas with a glorious ham dinner shared in a cozy setting with family—but for Martha, Christmas is all about brunch. In 2011, Martha discussed how she plans her annual Christmas afternoon gathering. "Well, my joke is that the earlier you have a party, the earlier everyone goes home," Martha said in the December 2011 Martha Stewart Living issue. "But really, I like the idea that with a brunch, it's more inclusive. Neighbors and friends stop by, and children can accompany their parents. I have a true open house, in that guests can go wherever they want on the farm. And the place really looks its best in daytime—the pretty landscape, the views, and the trees."
Martha's Favorite Christmas Brunch Staples
While there's plenty to eat at Martha's annual Christmas brunch, our founder has a certain penchant for two particular menu items thanks to Christmases past. "One of the nicest Christmas parties I ever went to was at my friends' little apartment on 37th Street in New York City. We ate oysters and salted ham and biscuits, then walked to Carnegie Hall to sing the Messiah," Martha shared with Quinn. "And I feel like those are two things I always want to have: oysters and ham. I know they're splurges—but people always remember how many oysters they ate. I serve fresh oysters from Norwalk, Connecticut, but you could also do crab claws in the West, or shrimp."
Hosting a Holiday Party in Bedford
Of course, Martha's brunch is much more than just a bunch of guests sitting around a dining table. Martha opens her entire Bedford home to more than 200 guests, according to her blog, and people mingle while tasting everything from holiday cookies to Martha's famous eggnog. "It's become a holiday tradition—one that I look forward to every year," Martha said in the magazine feature about her annual Christmas bash.
Caroling with Friends and Family
Martha began hosting Christmas brunch and holiday parties at her Bedford home only after major renovations were completed on her Summer House, an 18th-century Colonial on the farm, was complete. According to the December 2008 issue of Martha Stewart Living, Martha started the Bedford tradition of Christmas caroling in the music room of the Summer House, surrounded by guests and a full Christmas brunch spread. "Upon arrival, each guest was given a songbook, and soon the house filled with the exuberant voices of friends happy to be gathered around the piano on a crisp winter day," the issue reads. Martha shared on her blog that she continues to invite Christmas carolers to her gatherings, and hosted a special performance in 2018.
Playing Martha's Favorite Christmas Mix
Christmas carols aren't the only music that Martha looks forward to during the holiday season. In 2016, our founder shared her all-time favorite Christmas songs in an exclusive playlist that we shared with our readers. "I love music during the holiday season. Here are some of my favorites for listening and singing along," she wrote in Martha Stewart Living.
Creating a Holiday Garland
Martha said she loves to overdress her home for Christmas in the December 2016 issue of Martha Stewart Living. "Indoors, I go [a bit] more crazy—a tree or two or three in every room, hung with vintage and not-so-vintage ornaments that I have collected over the years," she wrote in her opening column, sharing snapshots of her favorite Christmas decorations of the year. "My windows and doorways are always garlanded, and wreathed indoors and out. Last year, I purchased more than 40 evergreen wreaths for the windows of the house and the eaves of the outbuildings, and affixed wonderful shooting stars, made from hundreds of little white lights, to the roofs and sides of the buildings."
Lighting Up the Grounds
Beyond indoor decorations and adorning the house, Martha takes her magical Christmas approach to most of her grounds as well. "Perhaps my favorite outdoor lighting project ever! We decorated one of the ancient apple trees in Bedford, illuminating it with hundreds of small white lights and many kugels of varying sizes," she wrote in Martha Stewart Living's December 2016 issue.
Transforming the Grounds Into a Winter Wonderland
On her Bedford estate, Martha has more than just one home to decorate—this cozy cottage, known as the "tenant house," is transformed each year into a winter holiday wonderland for Martha's grandchildren and other little guests. In this December 2012 Martha Stewart Living feature, Martha shared how she once transformed this area of the grounds into a woodland fantasy, complete with furry bears and an interior you'll need to see to believe.
Decorating the Kid-Friendly Tenant House
For Martha's grandchildren, Jude and Truman, as well as all of the children who visit her during the holidays, the tenant house is completely transformed into a space designed for the littlest of guests. Here, the children's Christmas tree features woodland creatures that are a continuation from the grounds' playful exterior. According to this feature, Martha has created a classic playlist of holiday tunes—from "Jingle Bells" to "Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer"—in this space designed for kids.
Transforming the Little House
This year, Martha and Martha Stewart Living Style Editor-at-Large Naomi deMañana transformed another building on the Bedford farm—a miniature dwelling that she affectionately calls the "Little House." Originally built as a play spot for her grandchildren, it's stood empty for many years until now. From a fully decked-out tree to festive woodland decor, Martha and editors transformed the Little House into a true winter wonderland.
Creating a Gingerbread House
Inside the tenant house, Martha invites the kids to create these bigger-than-life gingerbread houses over the holiday season. The thrill of the woodland theme comes from playing with scale and expectations. What's big is rendered small—but with an eye to detail—that it uses three shades and flavors of cookies, and the roof and chimney use a realistic take on shingles and bricks.
Creating Gingerbread Abbey
In 2014, Martha took her love of gingerbread houses to a new level by recreating the grand estate featured on PBS' Downton Abbey. Alongside her team, led by pastry chef and food stylist Jason Schreiber, our founder made 11 batches of gingerbread and used 16 cups of royal icing. Several pounds of sugar went into the caramel for the 65 'glass' windows that adorn the structure. It was enough to impress Lesley Nicol (also known as Mrs. Patmore on the television show) who visited Martha in the test kitchen to see it. Believe it or not, Martha said this isn’t the largest gingerbread project she’s made; that honor goes to a Baroque church she made in 2012.
Foraging a Fresh Christmas Tree
Martha is a firm believer in sourcing the freshest Christmas trees available—and she often finds those in the beautiful winter forests around her home. Our founder recounts hosting a Christmas getaway in Middlefield, Massachusetts, in a rustic cabin nestled among the Berkshire Mountains—the whole family journeyed into a nearby thicket to find a tree. "For Alexis’s fourth Christmas we decided to attempt a holiday with no relatives, no heat, and no frills. Perhaps this is why it remains, in both my and Alexis’s memories, one of our happiest times together," Martha wrote in a column printed in the December 2014 issue of Martha Stewart Living. "We found a perfect tree, a fir covered with its own small pinecones, and sawed it down and dragged it back to the cottage. We stood it in our living room and decorated it with homemade ornaments—cookies, paper chains, strings of cranberries, popcorn, and pinecones, and origami creations that Alexis and I made from colorful papers Andy had brought from Japan."
Decorating Trees in the Green Room
Martha and her staff take great care decorating the trees that end up adorning the halls of her Bedford home. This magnificent set of classic Douglas firs are situated in the Green Room, one of Martha's most iconic sitting areas. "My Green Room is just off the foyer. Laura decorate this sunken parlor in gorgeous gold and green," Martha wrote on her blog. "I love these two trees filled with ornaments—they just light up the room. I love how everything shimmers on the branches."
Martha's Favorite Faux Christmas Trees
On average, Martha puts up dozens of trees each year—but not all of them come from the woods outside. Martha Stewart Living featured this festive Bedford dining room in this story, where Martha purchased these faux stunner that's pre-strung with lights—"A real timesaver, she said. Two shimmering silver trees covered in pearly-white ornaments flank the fireplace. Mercury glass reindeer adorn its mantel.
Martha's Favorite Stocking Decorations
"My favorite stockings have always looked the most handmade, like the red-and-white-striped ones I knitted and decorated with harlequin cuffs and silver bells," Martha shared in this how-to story. "Over the years, I've crafted versions from all kinds of materials, many of them recycled: wool felt adorned with appliqués, fragments of overshot wool coverlets, old-fashioned knitted-wool ski socks, embroidered velvets, and quilted silks. The opportunity for embellishments, is, of course, endless and amazing—you can have so much fun with sequins, beads, lace, rickrack, monograms, ribbons, and stenciling."
Decorating the Whole House
For Martha, decorating for Christmas doesn't stop with the living room—in fact, as highlighted in the December 2016 issue of Martha Stewart Living, the entire house is fair game. "It's always been my inclination to decorate every room, focusing on trees and wreaths, as well as homemade and vintage ornaments," she wrote in her column. But Martha first began adorning home accents with Christmas decor in clever ways as a child. "Since my childhood on Elm Place didn't have a mantel or a fireplace, we would hang our stockings on the railing of the oak staircase that went from the living room to the second floor. We couldn't wait to run downstairs, grab them, and open the presents arranged under the tree."
Collecting Vintage Christmas Decor
Many of Martha's prized Christmas decorations are family heirlooms that have been passed down for generations—or vintage finds that were created in another era. "I started to pay closer attention to real collectibles, handling my mother's few possessions with respect," our founder wrote in her "Remembering" column in December 2009's Martha Stewart Living. "We had some vintage Christmas ornaments, large German glass orbs painted with beautiful flowers and sparkling with glass glitter. We had real tinsel—thin shards of tin-plated lead that hung heavily on the tips of our tree's branches. We had lovely conical metal "trees" that turned with the help of small electric motors. And we had a magnificent glass tree topper that made our tree resemble the onion domes of Russian churches."
Martha's favorite Christmas collectible? A crech scene gifted to her from "Aunt Clemy," which featured a wooden manger, figures of animals, Mary, Joseph, the three wise men, two shepherds, and the Baby Jesus.
Celebrating with All of Her Animals, Too
Of course, Martha takes some time to celebrate with the members of her furry family, too. Incorporating all the animals that live on the Bedford farm into the holiday fun, Martha thinks of fun gifts to share with her pets and trusty work animals before Christmas arrives.
Decorating the Barn
Here, our founder showcases special stockings she's created specially for her donkeys. "It is so beguiling to affix these keepsakes, each earmarked for a particular recipient, within easy reach of Santa and his elves..." she wrote. "And the donkeys? What manner of gifts will they want to find hidden away in their stockings? I can't wait for them to come in Christmas morning and find out."
Crafting Holiday Gifts with Love
There are plenty of Christmas gifts you can buy in stores—but Martha prefers to make her gifts by hand, which is something that Big Martha passed on to her. "We would bake hundreds of many kinds of cookies, and Mother would make dozens of cakes—babkas, fruitcakes, and stollen. We would package presents in cellophane or recycled tins or paper boxes, and then wrap them in festive papers and ribbons, with bits and pieces of holly and evergreen from the backyard," Martha wrote in the December 2014 issue of Living. "I and my daughter, Alexis, still continue this tradition, deciding every year what we will devise and create and how we will package, wrap, and pack—and, even more important, deliver those handmade gifts."
Enjoying Holiday Candies and Sweets
After Martha makes all of the edible gifts—from cookies to fruitcakes and puddings—for her guests, she goes on to create a selection of seasonal treats just for her to taste. "We all enjoyed the candy making because it was a special treat and because the results were so enjoyed by everyone who tasted the delectables," she wrote in Living's December 2014 issue. "I made dozens of caramels and butterscotches, which I wrapped in waxed paper and packed into metal cookie tins…" Her love for creating sweet holiday treats can be traced back to her childhood, where Martha grew up next to a pair of neighbors' that first instilled a whimsical sense of wonder about holiday baking, which she shared in this column here.
Spending Time Outside with Family
When she's not busy organizing parties, decorating, or crafting gifts, Martha said she'll enjoy the brisk winter weather with her family, friends, and guests. "During the way, we try to spend time outdoors, collecting eggs, hiking, and riding horses," she wrote in her Living column in December 2016. "I try to have a big open house to celebrate with my family, friends, and neighbors. This is not so different from what my parents did in our family home in Nutley, New Jersey, and what I hope my daughter will do as her two children grow and thrive."
Dressing the Part
Our founder celebrated the 25th anniversary of Martha Stewart Living much like she does everything else—in a one-of-a-kind ensemble for the holidays. Often celebrated for her costumes, Martha took this holiday look to the next level with a top created by artist Will Cotton and pastry chef Jason Schreiber, curated by Living's former style editor Kate Berry. "In his sweet heaven of a studio in downtown Manhattan, Will Cotton works not just with paint and paper and brushes, but with sugar, flour, and egg whites," Martha shared in her celebratory column in the December 2015 issue of Living. "He also, as artists are wont to do, brings in other materials—in this case, a flexible and inedible substance with which he embellished my Valentino dress. He transformed it from a lacy summer linen frock into an object worthy of inclusion in his idea of a sugary-white winter wonderland, into which he painted me so artistically and beautifully."