For Cara Coniglio McClure, there is nothing better than the warmth of the Christmas spirit. Growing up in Palm Beach’s six-kid Coniglio family, Cara says that Christmas started November 1 when her late father, the restaurateur Frank Coniglio (E.R. Bradley’s), decorated the house. She recalls every square inch of the property being covered in lights of all different sizes and colors. Wreaths were hung anywhere he could sink a nail, she says, and garlands were scattered atop all mantles, balconies, and banisters.
“More is more was my dad’s idea of decorating,” she recalls. “Dad went crazy! The roof was lit up with 20 Santas, the tree in back was aglow, and he hung over-the-top decorations everywhere. Even though our whole family loves Christmas, they call me ‘the elf’ because I love it the most.”
As youngsters, the Coniglio siblings would gather in their parents’ house for Christmas celebrations each year. Their mother, Gail Coniglio—the former five-term mayor of Palm Beach (and now a member of the town of Palm Beach’s Planning and Zoning Board)—always made turkey and ham, and all of the kids pitched in. “We sang Christmas songs, danced, and enjoyed the chaos of the holiday,” says Cara. “Dad spearheaded it all, and I craved every minute.”
Cara remembers that her dad’s favorite Christmas carol was “White Christmas” by the Drifters. When it played in the house, he would grab Gail while the kids squealed watching them dance together. “It is those things that I want my kids to see and experience,” she says.
Born in Baltimore and raised in Palm Beach, Cara moved back to the area in 2008. She is now senior director of luxury real estate sales for Douglas Elliman. In 2010, she met Jared McClure, a former University of Miami football player, who traded a career in finance to own and operate a local landscape design business called Plantwell. They got engaged on Christmas Eve and married three weeks later in 2012. “This gives me more reason to love Christmas and celebrate the whole month,” Cara says.
For his part, Jared grew up in a winter wonderland. Raised in Camp Hill, Pennsylvania, he calls his mother a “storybook mom.” She decorated their entire home with a full Christmas Dickens village complete with snow, working lights, and other Christmas items, including lots of nutcrackers.
“My mom always took an enormous amount of time to make the holidays special and to pick out thoughtful gifts for each of us,” says Jared. “Christmas mornings, she would make monkey bread and would later host our extended family for a feast. After that we would have a football game, weather permitting. I loved the spirit of the whole holiday season, and now we bring it to our own home.”
Jared and Cara have five daughters to spoil with Christmas delight: Elle, 9, Selah, 7, Lulu, 5, Noah, 3, and baby Filomena, nine months. Beginning December 1, Cara and Jared plan something daily for the children to enjoy. From making Christmas cookies to ice skating, seeing lights around town, wrapping gifts, creating a Secret Santa lottery, and watching Hallmark Christmas movies, their lives are nonstop Christmas cheer.
“It is complete chaos with our kids, my siblings’ kids, and the neighbor kids, but I want them to grow up knowing how important the holidays and family are,” says Cara, who encourages Jared to do most of the house decorating because he has a flair for design. “My kids are mini versions of me—they love it all! And I think Christmas is the only time of the year when people treat each other with enough warmth and energy.”
On a recent holiday evening, Cara and Jared hosted some of the extended Coniglio clan for a joyous family Christmas dinner and gift opening session for the girls. The front porch of the McClure home was decorated with red ribbons, reindeer, and wreaths. In the driveway was a cherry red Defender decorated with a wreath and red bow. Not only part of the family’s holiday decor, the vehicle is perfect for tooling around town during the holidays (and the children like to sit on top amid the decorations).
Inside, the party’s theme was traditional Christmas done in a neutral and simple palette of green, red, and white paired with a pure Palm Beach look of rattan, raffia, eyelet, and natural textures. “I am kind of a minimalist by nature, and this is only intensified by having kids,” Cara says. “With all of their ‘noise,’ I like environments that are quiet and peaceful.”
The living room exuded a cozy feel with red ribbons festooning white columns, garlands of greenery with lights, and floral displays of red roses, white peonies, garnet ranunculus paired with anemones, and fresh greenery by Boho Garden Crowns and Events. A Christmas tree decorated with homemade ornaments and old Christmas cards crafted into ornaments dominated the room.
“Our tree is very real and not at all cohesive,” Cara says with a laugh. “We hang needlepoint stockings from the mantel, which keeps with Jared’s family tradition. His mom buys each of us one with a scene that matches our specific personality. When Jared looks at the winter scenes on the stockings he thinks of home.”
Before her family members arrived, Cara ran around the house multitasking with the kids and taking real estate calls while Jared put his finishing touches on the holiday design. He also managed the dining table and made sure the home’s exterior was ready. “Since the kids keep us both on our toes, we are always ready for a meltdown,” he jokes. “You get a glimpse of our ‘happy chaos.’”
Guests arrived in time to watch the McClure girls open their Christmas “jammies” followed by their other gifts of gloves and socks for the snow that Cara and Jared had imported for the festivities.
Cara’s sister Francesca Coniglio Finck and her husband, William Finck, attended with their two children, Siena, 3, and Frances, 2. They were excited to celebrate another Coniglio family Christmas in the beauty and warmth of the McClure home. “It is fun to put the cousins together and watch them enjoy the magic of Christmas,” says William.
Or, as Francesca put it: “We love the disorganization and fun. It’s a happy and authentic holiday, like our childhood.”
Gail dropped by to join the family merrymaking, noting that she has 17 grandchildren and loves watching them celebrate the family Christmas traditions. “This is delightful and joyful and so exciting for the kids,” she says. “I am happy to be here.”
The Christmas table setting was a combination of beauty and nostalgia to match the overall theme of family and tradition, a special treat for the sisters and their families. Cara and Jared used green cabbageware plates that they received for a wedding gift, white glasses from Pottery Barn, a table runner from Gail, flatware in silver and bamboo, linen napkins from Hive, and placemats from the Kemble shop. The centerpiece was fresh evergreen and pomegranate with pinecones from North Carolina.
Cara’s sister Gabrielle Coniglio, a private chef who prepared the meal, arrived with her fiancé, Scott Fricker. She created the menu based on foods they enjoyed while growing up with their parents.
“I picked a classic meal inspired by what we loved at our home while we were kids,” says Gabrielle, who honed her culinary skills at Commander’s Palace restaurant in New Orleans and Jean-Georges on Perry St. in New York. “I remember smelling turkey being prepared for 12 hours when I woke up on Christmas morning. I have re-created that with new touches and excitement from my cooking experience.”
The family members loved the meal. They feasted on 12-hour-roasted sage turkey with classic herbed stuffing and gravy, tenderloin filet with spicy chimichurri, sweet potato casserole topped with meringue, roasted brussels sprouts with pancetta and seared radishes, buttered mashed potatoes with chives, spiced carrots with a carrot top mint pesto and pomegranate seeds, cranberry sauce, and buttermilk cheddar biscuits.
The evening ended with chocolate pie and coconut cake from Kitchen restaurant, and red, green, and white frosted Christmas cookies with M&Ms from Sweet Stacy’s. “Christmas is the time you get to sprinkle joy on everyone,” says Cara. “Anything magical can happen. The smells, the songs, the energy…it all brings you back to the beauty of the past. I am excited to celebrate and share the joy with our family.”