Santa’s helpers reach for the sky - how festive dads cope with demands of Christmas

With so many demands on their time, how do Christmas dads keep going during the festive season? Esther McCarthy talks to four celebrities about juggling it all. 

Santa’s helpers reach for the sky - how festive dads cope with demands of Christmas

THEY’RE Santa’s big helpers — the festive dads who go all out for Christmas to ensure the merriment and festive cheer prevails.

However, sometimes the sheer amount of gift buying, tree decorating and turkey stuffing that Christmas brings can lead to stresses and demands on even the most organised.

We spoke to some of Ireland’s best-known dads about what they love most about Yuletide — and the traditions and tricks they employ to make it extra special.

There are dads who go all out for Christmas and then there is Peter Kelly.

From snow machines to chef- standard food and a Mary who loses her bump when baby Jesus arrives, Kelly goes all out at Christmas.

Best known as the wedding planner Franc, the presenter of Say Yes to the Dress, business interests include dressing and decorating, meaning this is a hectic time of year.

“When my son was just born, I met a billionaire and I said to him ‘do you have any regrets?’ and he said ‘my one regret is not spending more time with my kids at Christmas’. I came back home to my wife that night, Cameryn was six months old and I said that’s it.

“And that’s the way we’ve been doing it for years, we kill ourselves all year long and we take time off at Christmas.”

It means he and Eadaoin can completely focus on family time with Cameryn, 18, Codí, 17, Jessie Mai, 15 and Mia,12.

“Myself and Eadaoin are always involved and always seem to be up until 2am or 3am.”

And it’s always a white Christmas. “We own in Ireland. We usually have snow outside and we put the snow machines on if people are arriving.”

However, the most popular touch for family and friends is the two Marys — one pregnant, one not — that Peter changes on Christmas Eve.

“I always have a pregnant Mary in my crib, up until Christmas Eve. And then I switch her for an unpregnant Mary and a baby! A lot of my friends think it’s very funny. I just think it’s more natural.”

He and his wife are both chefs, which is how they first met. They manage by sharing tasks and planning ahead, and not forgetting to have fun.

“Eadaoin introduced this to me and it’s my favourite Christmas thing. You have a few glasses of wine on Christmas Eve, crawl under the tree and look up through the tree from underneath. It’s a magical experience. You’ll never forget it.”

TV3 and Q102 radio presenter Martin King keeps Christmas stresses at bay by maintaining treasured family traditions and stepping away from the turkey at the request of his kids.

While Martin cooks throughout the year, it’s mum Jenny’s Christmas dinner that kids Dean, Victoria, Matthew and Alex love most.

“That’s the day in the year when the kids ask me to step away from the cooker and leave the dinner to Jenny. She does the ham glaze with the cloves. I love the smell of it on Christmas Eve. I’m making myself hungry talking about it!”

His Christmas superpower, however, is dressing and decorating the tree.

“I’ve always loved Christmas, that’s down to my parents, especially my mother, Christina, she’s Christmas mad. Growing up as a kid, from late October/November onwards, she would be making puddings for her sisters and friends of the family. It stemmed from there. It was always a special time, and we’ve just carried it on.”

They include he and Jenny waiting up until midnight on Christmas Eve to exchange presents, and having lunch with loved ones in Dublin’s city centre on Christmas Eve.

“We’ll always aim to have Christmas dinner here in the house, with a couple of exceptions. For example, my sister wanted to have a big family Christmas in her house and that’s what we did. This year we’ve got 20 family members joining us for dinner on Christmas day, so it’s going to be a busy one.”

As an actor and presenter with a young family and a lot of work at Christmas, preparation and planning are crucial to Simon Delaney to prevent stress and Christmas.

“I’m a Virgo. I like my lists. I like preparation. And I like having everything done before the day. I will always get my desserts and starters made on Christmas Eve. I do my stuffing and dress my turkey so that everything is ready and you just have to turn it on.

“Another good reason for this is, last year, for example, Lewis (the youngest of his four kids including Cameron, 11, Elliott, nine and Isaac, five) was only six months old.

On Christmas morning he was very sick with a bad temperature and chest infection. Lisa was also sick so we ended up at D-Doc on Christmas morning.

Chemist for two-and-a-half hours and I was standing there, thinking: ‘I’ve nothing to do’.

He and wife Lisa will spend Christmas with family at home this year, with Simon, a passionate home cook, doing all of the cooking.

His new cookbook, Simply Simon, features many of his favourite recipes including his mum’s Christmas stuffing.

“I have directed the Olympia panto for the last four years. Christmas for me is always busy in terms of work. Once I get into that rehearsal room, it’s Christmas baby! It’s lovely bringing the kids into the panto because you make a day out of it. Going to see the Christmas lights, going to see Santa, and then the panto, singing along with the Christmas songs and having a little bit of food afterwards.

“It is a lovely thing. I remember doing it with my dad years and years ago. We’d go in (with his siblings) to do the Christmas shopping. We’d have our breakfast in town. I still do that to this day with my sister, we go in and do our Christmas shopping together. I was only 19 when mam died and then my dad died when I was 26, so we try to carry on Christmas traditions.

“One big Christmas tradition in our house was my mam used to always make coddle on a Christmas morning, and my sisters still cook a coddle on Christmas morning. It’s got to the point where if I smell coddle, no matter where or when it always brings me back to Christmas morning.”

Top chef and proprietor of Dunbrody House, Kevin Dundon, loves going all out for Christmas and that includes the cooking.

“It really is a special time of the year. I love doing the decorations, cranking up the Christmas songs on the radio — and, of course, baking the cookies for Santa.

“Catherine does all the shopping, I do all the prep and it’s a joint effort in the kitchen to get the main meal out. The girls (Emily and Sophie) prepare the table, and Tom is great at ensuring there are crackers for all.

“We cook Christmas dinner, we keep it fairly traditional but I like to vary my stuffings and how I cook the sprouts. I am always asked what my favourite recipe for sprouts is, I like them just lightly stir-fried with some bacon, a little seasoning and serve.

“If sprouts are overcooked they lose their appeal, so less is better in this case.”

After a busy year, Kevin is looking forward to some relaxing family time.

“It’s been a hectic run-up to Christmas, the hotel has been busy with Christmas dinners, the pub, the Local at Dunbrody has been full with many Christmas parties and I have had many demos up and down the country, so Christmas Day can’t come quick enough.”

Embrace true the spirit

Christmas can be a challenging time for even the most enthusiastic of festive dads, with the stresses and strains that organising, planning and festive cabin fever can bring. Top Irish psychotherapist Dr Colman Noctor offers the following tips to help manage festive stress.

* It’s fun to be a Santa-helping father, but think of the value of something over the cost of it. We are often sold an idea that the more we spend on something the better it is. This is not true for Christmas.

Value instead is judged by something’s meaning. Remember the significance of something should always be a priority over price.

* As we all convene over Christmas, try to focus on making that time enjoyable. Focus on connecting with your family and not correcting them. Things will always irk us during a period of cabin fever.

Take some moments away from the intensity when you need to and try not to sweat the small stuff.

* Busy dads can benefit from managing their expectations. Expectation minus reality equals happiness.

The more moderate your expectations the less potential there is for disappointment. This is very true at Christmas.

* Remember those who cannot be there. This is always difficult with such an emphasis on presence.

Someone who has passed away will always be missed more intensely at Christmas time and it can be a very lonely time.

It is best to acknowledge this loss without perhaps labouring on it. This balance is difficult but important.

Also reach out to those who may be alone at Christmas. A small gesture of a visit could go a long way for them.

* Embrace the spirit of being a festive dad, but your cloth to suit your measure. Don’t over extend yourself financially, physically or emotionally.

People will remember the meaningful rituals they took part in and connection far more than things that they got — for example, making puddings together, watching the toy show together, decorating the tree, going to see Santa.

Concentrate on the quality of experiences rather than the quantity.

* Encourage company, in an era where we can all watch TV in different rooms and the electric gates have done away with the impromptu visitor, Christmas is a time to challenge this.

Spend time in each other’s company, make the visit to the person you haven’t seen in a while and take advantage of the season to provide an excuse to be actually social.

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