In the show, there's a lot of white stuff on the ground that looks suspiciously like snow. Toronto hasn't had snow yet: Did you shoot this last year?
Yeah. When you work in the business, you sometimes get asked to do Christmas at crazy times of year. And there was one year where I'd done Christmas four times by Halloween. I spent a long weekend in the summer making Christmas decorations in the middle of a heat wave, while all my family and friends were on beaches and lathering up with sunscreen. And I vowed then I'd never again do Christmas unless it's [the season]. Because I actually love Christmas.
How do you hold on to that feeling?
What keeps me inspired is focusing on the things I love about Chirstmas: the entertaining, decorating and celebrating aspect of it. As the years have gone by, I worry less and less about the material side. I refuse to succumb to the pressure of shopping. Not to say that I don't do it, but I don't go crazy and I don't over-indulge. When you look back on Christmases past, I think you always remember the experiences. I honestly could barely tell you what I received as gifts last year. So that part is not on my radar.
But I love entertaining. It's a time of the year when everybody's in the mood to celebrate. And not embracing that is a huge missed opportunity for fun.
Your annual party has 200 guests. It's kind of amazing that anybody--
[Laughing] That anybody would want to do that?
Or that anybody could.
I've never been good at excluding anybody. I'm always like "Oh, of course, well then you'd want to have so-and-so, and what if they found out that they weren't invited..." I think the purpose of an open-house is to throw your doors open and make everybody feel wanted and welcome.
But it also doesn't have to be a huge amount of work. People can do whatever they feel up to. If the idea of having everything totally organized is daunting, then have a self-serve bar. Buy pre-made hors-d'oeuvres and just heat them up. The whole message I was trying to deliver with this show is that there's ways to make it work and ways to make it fun, and I believe that with the holidays, you should do everything you like doing, and nothing you don't.
Don't shy away from entertaining because you feel that you can't pull it off like Martha Stewart. Just do what you can. If you and your friends, none of you feel like you can do it on your own -- instead of nobody having one, why not join forces? Three couples can throw it together, and you all invite some people. Ask people to bring whatever you need.
That sounds like good good advice for keeping your stress level down.
My husband always says about everything in life, "If in doubt, do". If you're stressing about who to invite, just invite them! So what? You can't worry about if so-and-so is going to get along with so-and-so. That's not your problem. As a host, you need to do whatever you can to make sure that you're relaxed, and that you're having a good time. Because if you're not, everybody's going to notice. And your job is to make sure that everybody is engaged and enjoying themselves.
With something as traditional as Christmas, how important are annual trends?
I don't think they are important. I'm not getting new decorations. Instead of trends, I think you should focus on tradition.
My husband has this amazing one. Part of how I knew that he was absolutely one-hundred percent for me was that the first time we decorated a tree together he pulled out champagne in the afternoon. I was like, "This is the most fun I've ever had!" You don't have to pop a bottle of champagne, but find the joy in all of the traditions.
I guess I'm also lucky because I love spending time with my family. I love both my in-laws and my family. So for us, Christmas is a time of celebrating and everybody having a good time, as opposed to "We have to spend it with your family?" So my heart goes out to people who have family situations that make it challenging. Because it shouldn't be.
Was decorating a part of your childhood?
Yeah. My mom's a terrific cook, a great seamstress. I don't know, maybe if she had been born at a different time, she might have pursued a career in design. But she was very stylish, and did a lot of stuff at home.
I learned to sew when I was tiny. She worked when I was little, and there was a rule that if I came home from school and if I wanted to sew, I had to call her at work. So I learned how to use the sewing machine when I was in kindergarten. And by high school I was making my own formal dresses.
It was always my job to put the lights on the tree. That's the one tradition that I would love to pass on to someone else, but somehow, in my childhood home and in my matrimonial home, I'm still the light person. Probably because everybody knows that I'm so maniacal about it that if they did it, I'd just come and fix things anyway. That's my burden.
And what kind of holiday decorating do you do now?
I do simple things. Lots of candles. A tree where literally the branches have so many ornaments on them that they start to sag under the weight. But I don't go visiting those Christmas stores in the middle of July. My favourite ornaments are the simplest, the ones that come in boxes of twelve from Loblaws, Canadian Tire, Sears, you name it.
I don't do swags and garlands and things are impossible to put up and a nightmare to take down.
Real tree or fake?
Going to to get a pumpkin at a pumpkin patch, picking apples with your kids at an apple orchard, and buying your own Christmas tree are touchstones in a year that I think are important experiences for life in Canada. Even when I had an apartment with friends, when I was 23, I remember going to buy my first Christmas tree of my own at the little mom-and-pop Chinese grocer. I literally dragged the tree home in the snow. I remember thinking "Oh my gosh, I feel like I'm in a movie right now. This is so great!"
You'll be throwing the party again this year?
Always. That's the thing. If you start hosting, be prepared: You're going to create a tradition.
'Sarah's Holiday Party' airs Sunday, November 29th at 3pm and 8pm EST, on HGTV.