Festive advice from seven well-known Irish women

Christmas means something different to everyone. But in many households, it’s the women who are the heart of the season — whether it’s preparing the food, buying and wrapping gifts or just making sure to get everyone together.

Festive advice from seven well-known Irish women

So as the big day approaches, we asked well-known women what they like best about the season, what is their favourite childhood memory of Christmas and what advice they would give for surviving what can be a stressful and overly indulgent few days.

Sinead Kennedy, TV presenter

“I just love Christmas. I love spending time with family and friends, going down to my granny’s in Thurles and above all, buying presents. Seeing the look on people’s faces when they open something they really wanted, is my favourite thing.

“My happiest childhood memory is the year I received a My Little Pony Castle. I wanted it so badly that I could hardly cope with the excitement when I received it.”

Top tip: “I know some people get stressed out by the whole season so in order to stay sane, I try getting the shopping done a bit early.

“I’m not the best person when it comes to being healthy at Christmas as I believe it’s the one time of the year that you shouldn’t worry about calories. I couldn’t care less how fattening it is, I’m going to have the stuffing, the spuds, the selection boxes and the cake and anything else that I’m offered.”

Maura Derrane, TV presenter

“I’m not normally much of a Christmas person but I am really excited this year as it the first one with my seven-month-old son Cal. He already has a Christmas jumper and although he won’t have a clue about what is going on, his presence makes it more special.

“I love the build-up to Christmas but I feel people over-spend, over-eat and generally get stressed out over something which should be simplistic. When I was growing up on Inis Mor, it was a very different occasion. We didn’t have much and made do with what we had.

“My favourite childhood memory was going with my dad to cut down a holly bush to use as a Christmas tree as there weren’t any on the island. He would tie the bush together and place it in a bucket of sand and me and my sisters would decorate it.

“There were four of us girls in the house and while at times, we would kill each other, we always had great fun at Christmas. A couple of times there were fights because one of us would want what the other got from Santa but he wised up after that and I remember one year, he left four little sewing machines — so there was no argument that year.”

Top tip: “My advice for surviving the season would be to bite your tongue. It can be a stressful time of year and after a few drinks people can come out with things that are best left unsaid.”

Nina Byrne, GP and TV presenter

“I love everything about Christmas, particularly the run-up as I really enjoy buying presents. I love picking out little gifts for people and often make up stockings of small gifts rather than one big one.

“When I was growing up my dad always read The Night Before Christmas from a big blue leather book before we went to bed on Christmas Eve. We never saw our presents until after mass on Christmas morning and my friends thought this was really cruel but we actually loved the excitement. Santa would always leave a crack in the curtains so we could peer through or we would try looking through the key hole and by the time we finally got into the room, opening the presents brought double the pleasure.

Top tip: “So many people think everything has to be perfect. If you are hosting, make it a group affair and delegate some duties. Don’t fret if things go wrong as something always does. And stick to the motto ‘everything in moderation’ that works for food, drink and presents.”

Roz Purcell, model

“I tend to go abroad at Christmas as after a busy year, I like to feel some heat on my bones.

“This year I am going to a sports resort in the Canaries with my sisters and am really looking forward to it — but while we will not be celebrating the traditional festivities on the day, we will make sure to bring all the ingredients for an Irish fry-up on Christmas morning as nothing can beat that.

“When I was growing up, it was always snowing in late December and in fact I can’t remember any year that we didn’t have a white Christmas.

“My best memory is putting on riding boots and skating around the garden — they didn’t have grips, so the soles were really slippy and great for sliding around.

Top tip: “If I could give any tips for getting through the season it would be not to overeat.

“The temptation is there but I have learned to stop picking when I feel full.

“The same goes for stress — don’t try to do too much or buy too much. It is crazy what some kids ask for today — it’s supposed to be a joyous occasion but in a lot of cases it’s been turned into something else.”

Lorraine Keane, broadcaster

“The best thing about Christmas for me is the opportunity to get together with friends and family. We are all great about saying to people throughout the year that we will meet up, but it takes Christmas to actually make us set a date.

“I will be cooking for 32 people this year and I am really looking forward to it. I have six siblings, so when I was growing up Christmas was always a busy time — in a way it was very idyllic as my parents included us in everything so there was always a great buzz and lots going on. I hope my children will feel the same way when they look back at their childhoods.

“I can’t remember the season ever being anything other than happy and the gifts were always great — not as indulgent as what some children get today but things like a skateboard, a Fame jumper and leg-warmer set and my absolute favourite, a furry monkey.

Top tip: “I would say to think about those less fortunate — whenever you feel stressed, just remember all of the people who are suffering in the world. I have just come back from the Philippines with World Vision and what these people have been going through, really puts things into perspective.”

Emma Hannigan, author

“I absolutely love this time of year — I have just brought out my second Christmas book, Heart of Winter, and I would say I am mildly obsessed with the festive season. There is a real sense of coming together and because I have such positive memories of my childhood Christmases, I still always look forward to it every year.

“After all I have been through (surviving cancer), being with family and friends is so important to me. When I was a child, we would all sit around the table wearing silly hats on Christmas Day and that sense of togetherness has stayed with me.

“My favourite memory is when I got a Tiny Tears doll. I was so amazed to receive it that I thought I had died and gone to heaven — I also got a xylophone one year which I’m sure drove everyone mad, but I loved it.

Top tip: “Know your limitations — whether it’s cooking, finance, shopping or socialising, just don’t get yourself in a knot — just relax and enjoy.”

Maia Dunphy, producer and broadcaster

“I am a really big kid and still get that magical feeling around Christmas. I love everything about the season and although my husband (Johnny Vegas) goes to the North of England to be with his son and I stay with my family, we will have our own celebration beforehand and then get to spend time with our families on the day itself.

“When I was growing up, I would ask for loads of expensive toys and while I never got massive amounts of anything, I would get things like Lego, Smurfs and jewellery sets — it was all good fun.

“My favourite memory is of my Spanish granny coming over from London. She would arrive on Christmas Eve and we would collect her from the airport, which was a thrill in itself. One year, I had Zig and Zag’s Christmas cassette and we listened to it for the entire journey. Then my granny arrived bearing exotic bags from places like Selfridges and Boots — it was great.”

Top tip: “I think people shouldn’t try to be martyrs when it comes to Christmas— don’t go out all the time if you don’t want to. Don’t trek halfway across town to deliver presents if it doesn’t suit, spend time with your family and enjoy the rare opportunity to unwind.”

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