Why I love Christmas dishes

Atlanta Magazine’s HOME editor Betsy Riley on a holiday tradition
Betsy Riley
Photograph by Ben Rollins

I’m just going to put it out there: I love Christmas dishes.

I realize that holiday-themed china is about as hip as Santa Claus sweaters and not nearly so ironic. Nonetheless, every year about this time, I switch my everyday dishes for the Christmas patterns—and they remain with us until my older son’s birthday at the end of January.

Yes, I have two holiday sets. The first is Christmas Village, a Wedgwood ironstone that promptly went out of U.S. circulation about five minutes after I purchased my first pieces—and, sadly, this happened long before eBay. But while traveling to Bermuda for a professional conference a couple of years later, I bought a stash of the British plates, which I held protectively in my lap for almost the entire trip. Since then I have updated my Christmas spread with more streamlined tableware, but the Wedgwood still makes me feel like a newlywed.

Holidays or not, one of the most enduring links between the generations in my family is how we set the table. Once I visited Replacements, Ltd., the china lovers mecca near Greensboro, North Carolina. The halls of that mammoth complex are lined with glass cases displaying the 100 most historic and requested patterns. I realized that, if I counted the in-laws, my family had personal connections to some 40 of them.

My own china collection reminds me of my strong female forebears. I inherited the yellow Art Deco Regal Ware that belonged to my great-aunt, who essentially ran her employer’s Savannah shipping company during World War II because her German boss had become persona non grata. In Augusta, her more practical sister, my great-grandmother, was a talented watercolorist with a green thumb. I have her to thank for the sturdy Jadeite. My father’s mother passed along some delicate etched crystal of uncertain provenance that looks very much like William Yeoward’s. A teetotaler Methodist, she probably wouldn’t have approved of me using her water goblets for wine.

So when I read Vern Yip’s essay, I appreciated his insistence that families embrace their holiday idiosyncrasies for all to see. My ironstone looks pretty darn cute with the green Depression glass. And maybe this year I’ll serve hot toddies in Mom’s reindeer mugs.

This article originally appeared in our Winter 2015 issue of Atlanta Magazine’s HOME.