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Celestial Seasonings

Updated: Mar 10, 2021

A Winter Solstice Inspired Virtual 'Friendsmas' Event

When we couldn't be together in person this year for our Annual 'Friendsmas' Dinner, we decided that even a global pandemic wouldn't keep us apart in spirit. Each year, about a dozen of our friends set aside a weekend in December before we all part ways for our individual family holidays. We come together to celebrate each other with a gourmet dinner, gift exchange and merry memory--making. Starting with a dramatic mood board of Celestial Awakenings capturing the spirit and style, we were able to provide inspiring direction to our group of friends. The great thing about this particular theme is it works quite well for a New Year's Eve party as easily as it can for Christmas or Winter Solstice. Across three time zones, we discovered that a well-coordinated party can absolutely be attended virtually via Zoom if all parties are willing to partake in a little party planning.

A Dapper Holiday Ensemble - Image by Michael Ong

What to Wear to A Winter Solstice Event

With a celestial theme that sparks the imagination, suggesting a darker color palette of blues and violets offered a way for us to be coordinated while also feeling connected from afar. Additionally, getting dressed for an event always helps to get you into a festive frame of mind. Keep reading to find out why having a color-coordinated wardrobe was encouraged as we were also asked to submit selfie photos to create our annual holiday photo.

A Picture Isn't Always As Simple As It Seems

We're lucky to have such varied talents in our group and we've learned over the years to lean into these natural talents to help orchestrate a pretty flawless execution. If you're interested in creating a similar event such as this, I'd definitely advise finding someone in your group who enjoys organizing or project leading. In our group, our clever creative strategist with a heart of gold, Suba Nadarajah, took the reins and whipped together a style guide and assigned key tasks (so in addition to identifying the event theme, I'm also writing this blog, lol).

In the case of our annual photo, we relied on the post-production design talents of our friend Michael Ong who magically brought our individually submitted selfies to life in the collaged ensemble you see below. His photo has literally fooled viewers into thinking we were all in the same room when the photo was taken -- so much so that we've even received comments from viewers asking why we weren't wearing our masks while standing so close in proximity to each other.

Individual Selfies Were Submitted and Combined to Make an Impressive Group Portrait - Image by Michael Ong
We all submitted similar selfies in our own homes

So with a Zoom meeting, comes Zoom etiquette, right? How many of us have attended a meeting only dressed from the waist up? Guilty as charged! This has apparently become a legit trend since COVID and I've even seen a commercial where a guy sneezes and his laptop slips to reveal to his virtual team that he's a 'boxer--kind--of--guy', much to his chagrin. For an added round of fun, we decided that waist up we'd dress elegantly for the Zoom party while waist down, we'd wear our PJ's, boxers & slippers which we could wear in the comfort of our own homes.

You're Cordially Invited To Make Dinner

That's right, the resident chef in our group reflected upon the Celestial Awakening theme and created a curated menu of seasonally inspired fare sent via email in advance to our planned event. We hosted a prep session to walk through the menu to help those of us who are, ahem, less talented in the cooking department to ensure that everyone felt confident in creating a version of the proposed menu. Starting with a signature cocktail and coursing our way through dessert, I was so impressed by how a visual theme can come to life through a culinary interpretation.

Our Happy COVID Cocktail Hour Begins at 7pm CST

For our holiday cocktail hour, chef Mark Schweizer, started us off with 2 drink options – a boozy classic and non-boozy selection. He concocted the ‘Aviation’ cocktail made with Tanqueray gin and Rotham & Winter créme de violette as well as a non--boozy selection called ‘Blueberry--Ginger Fizz’ using blueberry--ginger syrup and club soda. The selections coincided splendidly with our theme of Celestial Awakening in the night sky...lavender and blueberry, colors reminiscent of the glow of the Northern Lights.

A Blueberry Ginger Fizz "Mocktail" is Light & Refreshing - Perfect for the Holidays - Image by Michael Ong

I've included highlights from our dinner menu and included a selection of pics of various dishes from appetizers through dessert that were prepared and photographed by the attendees, including some by entrepreneur couple Angela Hong and Nick Crofoot of the brand #Bornwithseoul (a tasty collection of healthy Korean marinade sauces at Whole Foods). Below is an excerpt from the menu guide written by chef Mark Schweizer that led us through the culinary experience. This is an easy way to aggregate your menu, ingredients and imagery to help in the prep work.

"As we migrate to our salad and main course, we paired a salad of brussels sprouts, clementine and russet apple with a traditional comfort dish of shepherd’s pie. If you are unable to find a clementine, you may substitute a tangerine. Also in lieu of the russet apple, you may choose a yellow or golden apple to coincide with the celestial theme. The shepherd’s pie uses ground lamb for the protein, but if you are feeling ambitious, you may substitute boneless lamb shoulder. With the salad, a Vouvray white wine pairs well, and for the main course, choose a medium to full-body red wine such as a Cabernet Sauvignon blend whether it’s from Napa California,

Tuscany Italy or Bordeaux France..."

With the Evening's Menu Sent Ahead, We Could Prep Ingredients in Advance - Image by Michael Ong

The rich and hearty main dish of British Shepherd's Pie was made with a mashed-potato crust on top and baked in a casserole or baking dish. For a sweeter taste, we used a blend of potatoes, parsnips, and carrots in the filling along with lamb or beef before advancing to the dessert course.

For the Final Course, We Cast a Gaze Upward to the Night Sky

We served a mixed berry crumble with oats and almonds, topped off with lemon sorbet. For the full night effect, we used a combination of blueberries and blackberries. Additionally, with the dessert course, a Sauternes sweet wine provides a delightful compliment, or for a non-boozy choice, substitute a sparkling grape.

A Mix of Oats, Almonds, Berries, and Cinnamon Creates a Perfect Healthy Dessert - Image by Suba Nadarajah

Anticipating The Triple Swap Gift Exchange

As we finished our hearty dinner, we paused our Zoom for a quick reset to bring our exchange gifts to the screen. Some of us even got fully into our PJ's. *Tip - If you're not sure what general gift you should get when you don't have a specific recipient in mind, just lean into the event theme. I was inspired by the Celestial Awakening theme so much that I curated a bundled coffret of stationery and blank journals with the celestial and star astrology theme that matched in color and aesthetic. One thing our group is really good at is in finding gifts that spur several swaps and switches, much to the dismay of anyone who happens to pull the lowest number in the draw. This is an instance where being last works in your favor. After the third swap, a gift is officially owned and is no longer in play.

Opening Gifts was like Hosting an HSN Shop Segment

We Toasted to a Stellar New Year in 2021

The fun around a gift exchange is in predicting who will end up with what's considered the 'best' gift, relatively speaking. Now, try and do this virtually and you add another level of hilarity as you try remembering who's in current possession of a gift in play and who's trying to pawn off their gift in hopes of gaining another one deemed more desirable. At any rate, it kept us entertained for the third hour of our Zoom call before we finally mellowed out with a final cocktail, hot cocoa or nightcap. We signed off and made a final toast to our ongoing friendship and to a brighter and safer new year ahead. I wish this for everyone, too, as this year has presented its ongoing challenges to be sure, but the resilience of the human spirit has kept us moving forward and sense of hope keeps us inspired to reach for happier days ahead. Here's to a Bright New Year in 2021.


A special thank you to the following friends who helped create this memorable event.

I value our friendships and know it was our virtual conversations and laughter this year that helped me stay emotionally connected this year. –– Michael Ong, Eric Magnus,Suba Nadarajah,

Mark Schweizer, Dr. Thom Pham, Naeem Babri, Angela Hong, Nick Crowfoot, Jeffrey Wine, Kenny Sit, Calvin Quattlebaum, Kurtis McAfee, Wes Crosby


Will Brown is a tastemaker and interior designer in the midwest and resides in the Kansas City, Missouri area. Owner of Will Brown Interiors LLC, Will helps the well-traveled create gracious homes using positive energy flow to help increase prosperity as they re-imagine their life's next chapter. Please be sure to sign up for future posts and follow us on Facebook at Will Brown Interiors and IG @willbrowninteriors to stay abreast of new projects!

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