Style trendsetters from Ireland’s most beautiful design shops and specialist stores share the precious festive rituals and personal family observances – from childhood to present day – that make up their own customised Christmas…
Jonathan Legge, Makers & Brothers
Setting the table on Christmas Day: a simple tradition and a practical one that I probably enjoy more than I should. There is always too much to squeeze onto my grandparents’ table but, slightly overloaded, it still remains elegantly appealing come seven o’clock. There is the wrought-iron candlesticks that are only brought out for Christmas, the tiny cut-crystal bowls that hold the salted almonds, the silver dishes for the bread and cranberry sauce, the crisp white linen napkins that need to be folded just so, curling tails of ivy and sprigs of holly, the place names reimagined by my cousin Anna each year in the most fantastical way, and the final touch: scratch cards contributed by Aunt Caroline.
Jonathan’s top tip Cloved oranges. Super simple, they always look good and smell even better.
Caitlin McGinniss, Maven
When I’m in Ireland, we always head to Arcadia Deli in Belfast, which is just up the road from Maven – owned by my cousins Catherine and Patricia, with whom I spend most days, including Christmas – and stock up on amazing cheeses before shutting up the shop a bit early on the 24th. We crank the Christmas tunes and drive home to an evening of great food and wine. Loads of relatives drop in on Christmas Eve, so we prepare lots of sharing dishes, and the food and wine keeps flowing till the wee hours. My Christmases at home in Australia are vastly different. We always have breakfast at 8am with our friends in Melbourne, and then the rest of the day is spent napping, in the neighbours’ pool or at the beach until about 8pm, when we gather outside at my mum and dad’s for a seafood feast. Last year’s Irish Christmas drink of choice was a white Russian; this year’s tipple is still up for discussion. Feel free to tweet us drink suggestions! @WeAreMaven_
Caitlin’s top tip Keep it candlelit.
Umit Kutluk, fashion designer
We don’t celebrate Christmas in Turkey so I’ve only experienced it since Ireland became my home. Here, the whole family comes together to prepare lots of wonderful food. We have very traditional dinner with turkey, ham and roast potatoes – which must be very crispy! – and I love it because everyone is together; there is nowhere else to be. It’s magic.
Umit’s top tip Invest in an amazing coat!
Ruth Monahan, Appassionata Flowers
I was always the “Christmas director” at home in Sligo on “Tree Dressing Day”, when we contemplated where baubles and coloured carriage lights should sit before the tinsel was thrown on by my dad, and I have carried on the tradition of Tree Dressing Day with my own kids. I love the excitement and thrills that build up in their cute faces during the days before they pick their own shape of tree, the mayhem of the unuruly unpacking before “we” decide which decorations can be used this year, and then the pride in the new baubles small hands have made that we’ve bought to mark the year. And then the tree resembles nothing like the perfect Christmas Day trees we create for our clients but because each decoration is placed with fun, love and childish intent, I always adore the jumbled tree style we three create in an afternoon of giggles and Santa chats.
Ruth’s top tip Always make sure you have nothing creative or handmade left to make on Christmas Eve or all the joy of making your own festive piece will disappear up the chimney in tears.
Vanessa MacInnes, Industry
One of our family traditions is to wait until after dinner to open our gifts from under the Christmas tree. As a child, this was torture! Santa would have visited, leaving a beautiful, shiny, new bicycle or something equally great, but the longing to open the beautifully wrapped parcels with our name tags on them was testing as a child. (Sometimes, it would look like a mouse had got at the corners come dinner time!) As adults, we all love this tradition. It takes the emphasis of the day away from the gifts and moves it onto the family spending some quality time together – eating and drinking far too much. It’s something I will definitely pass on to my children; it can only make them stronger!
Vanessa’s top tip Christmas only comes once a year – wear stretchy pants and eat like a king; January is always a fresh start!
Mark Grehan, The Garden
Being from the West and living in Dublin, one of my favourite traditions is early-morning Christmas Day breakfast with all the family. Ever since we were little, it’s been one of the highlights: all of us together around the kitchen table. With everyone busy in the run-up to Christmas, this is one of first occasions that all of us might be home together all year, as my two brothers are living in Australia. My mum is a chef, so that’s a major plus – her brown bread is a must, as is the plum pudding. It’s all very casual in the kitchen: good chats, and if anyone can’t make it home, there’ll Facetime and Skype calls abroad. Now that time is moving on, we have an extended family with the arrival of my nephews, Aodhfin and Éanna, and my niece, Eve, which makes of lots of fun and, of course, the arrival of Santa too. Having spent December in a shop, it’s nice to finally be home.
Mark’s top tip In late October, start doing a little foraging: picking up seed heads, cutting spent hydrangea flowers from the garden. Hang them upside down to dry out. Fallen twigs and branches will help add a little interest to some red Ilex berries and Christmas noble fir, which you can pick up in a local florist.
Alexa O’Byrne, A.Rubanesque
When we were children, my mother always told my brother and me to ask Father Christmas for a “surprise” as he knew what we would like best. Father Christmas always got it just right. Even when we were older, receiving a “surprise” brought back the magic of our childhood Christmases each year. One of the sure ways to bring on “that Christmas feeling” in me is the scent of oranges and cinnamon. I remember decorating oranges with whole cloves, rolling them in ground cinnamon and wrapping them in parchment paper, then leaving them in the hot press for a week or so to dry out. I’ve just got married so this year I will be making new traditions. My husband’s family and many of our friends are from Greystones, Co Wicklow.
Alexa’s top tip Join in the annual Greystones swim on Christmas morning. This consists of an insane race into the icy sea and a rewarding hot toddy post-dip. The whole town appears on the beach to either join in the madness or laugh at those mad enough to participate; it’s always good craic.
Christmas bonus! Our final three festive joy spreaders are less shopkeepers and more talented tastemakers, but we’re dying to get a peek into their holiday style…
Danielle Ryan, Roads
There are a few Christmas traditions that I love, usually based around scents. I always hang oranges pierced all over with cloves on the Christmas tree. It takes ages, but it always gets me in a Christmas mood; the smell when they dry is beautiful and they look very elegant on the tree. I also love making mulled wine. Really, for me it about family and comfort, movies, sitting up till all hours with family members, which has a sense of old clans. Still, I don’t hold too close to traditions, even if I love them. This year, I plan to travel to China with my kids; we will celebrate Christmas but I would also like to use the time for adventure and education. Tradition is special, but, like a family home, you know it’s there waiting for you when you need it.
Danielle’s top tip I never buy wrapping paper. I always wrap my presents in newspaper and red ribbon – I’ve been doing it for years so now people know immediately that the gift is from me.
Rincy Koshy, doctor, photographer and blogger at A Little Bird
Growing up in Michigan within a very rich Indian community, for me the Christmas season was often a very animated balance of East vs West traditions: over-the-top holiday light displays, daily church events and copious amounts of Indian food that no one had space for but dutifully ate anyway. Traditions revolved around church activity, opening just one present Christmas Eve, and, of course, family. Each family member hosted the meal alternate years and everyone came. Shared meals still remain close to my heart and it stems from those at tables during our Christmas period: drama-filled, loving, full of eccentricities, but always together. The one tradition that as small as the company is we never parted from- a shared meal.
Rincy’s top tip Create or buy a Christmas decoration you can keep up for weeks after the new year begins as an excuse to keep that festive spirit around longer than necessary. A win-win situation.
Alex Milton, curator of ID2015
Christmas as a child always seemed to revolve around a proper black and white movie, preferably It’s a Wonderful Life, and the family dozing off after a lengthy dinner in a fuzzy haze of feelgood sentimentality. I’ve tried to maintain these rituals as an adult, and go to the IFI to see Frank Capra’s classic film each year. It’s a wonderful, life-enhancing movie that should be shown every Christmas, and I love how the audience joins in and recites the script. As Jimmy Stewart says, “Hee-haw! And Merry Christmas, everybody!”
Alex’s top tip Having spent many years in Scotland, I’d recommend focusing on the real festive holiday, Hogmanay, and ensuring you have a fine Speyside malt accompanied by a Tunnock’s caramel wafer to welcome in the new year!