Arlene Harris asks four stars about their festive memories and to recall a time when the longed-for Christmas gift failed to arrive
Children across the country are putting their faith into the belief that Santa will deliver their hearts’ desires on Christmas morning.
These days the lists are longer and the requests considerably more expensive, elaborate, and sometimes harder to acquire than the simpler gifts we would have received as children. Despite the fact most of us didn’t expect anything wildly exotic under the tree when we were growing up, it didn’t stop us from being disappointed if what we coveted didn’t materialise.
So as Santa’s elves busy themselves with readying gifts for children on the ‘good’ list this year, we spoke to some well-known people about what they wanted for Christmas as a child and how they felt when it didn’t either materialise or work out as they expected.
Restaurateur and celebrity chefhas always loved Christmas. As one of nine children, it was always a busy affair in his house and while he had one or two minor disappointments over the years, for the most part, the festive season has always been very special.
“Christmas has always been big in our family — with nine children my parents had a lot of preparing to do but they turned it into a massive event for us,” he says.
“Back then we were living where the restaurant[MacNean House] is now, the morning began with Dad saying no one could go downstairs until he went first. We followed him in our pyjamas, and he made a big deal of knocking loudly on the living room door to make sure Santy hadn’t fallen asleep at the fire after eating all the goodies we left for him.
I don’t remember ever being disappointed and I suppose they just listened to hear what we would like — although I had wanted a Scalextric set once and it never materialised. However, I got a Star Wars game that year which I loved.
“Another year I got a woodwork set and managed to destroy my mother’s work top with it. Maybe it planted a seed because my twin brother David is a woodwork teacher in Celbridge, Co Kildare today.
“But the one thing that always really annoyed me was that Santy always spelt my name wrong. It would be NEVIN and I am Neven. Each year in my letters to him I would point out the correct spelling and each year he got it wrong. It became one the features of the morning to see did he eventually get it right.
“These days Amelda and I still make a big production out of Christmas Day as I want to hold on to the magic [for eight-year-old twins Connor and Lucia] for a long as we can. I still do the three knocks on the living room door and we prefer several small presents to going overboard as it is all about the fun and the magic.
“If I was asked what I wanted myself this year I’d say that a Ted Baker voucher never goes astray. And as Amelda is doing a lot more cooking, this year I will be a Cavan man and give her my new cooking range for Dunnes Stores— I already gave her a book for her birthday and she is stuck on page 95 of Home Economics for Life — I have never eaten so many meatballs in my life.”
Writer and broadcastercan recall the disappointment of getting a practical gift when she was a child. And, as a mother, remembers her son’s dismay when the gift he coveted was nowhere to be found in the run-up to Christmas Day.
“We didn’t really want or expect very much in those days and there was no definitive list, which probably went some way to avoiding disappointment,” she says. “But while I don’t remember wanting something and not getting it, I do have a memory of one Christmas when I had turned 12 receiving a new gym slip for school and a pair of dancing shoes while the rest of my (younger) siblings got toys.
I was of course a bit disappointed but I felt quite grown up, particularly as I also got a gift set from Yardley which was probably the start of my fondness for lotions and potions.
“However, as a parent, I remember when my son Tom (now aged 33) was about eight years old, he really wanted a Mr Frosty ice making machine — it worked by taking his hat off and putting cubes of ice — and food colouring if you wanted — into his head and turning the handle to crush it into ice.
“He didn’t receive it on Christmas morning as it just could not be found — instead he got something which looked similar and I still remember the look on his face when he opened it — he was so disappointed but never said a word, which made it even worse as he was so sweet.
“It can be very difficult for Santa to get exactly what every child wants, so I’m quite happy at this stage to be out the other side of it.
“There really isn’t anything I want for myself this year — I am just looking forward to the festivities.”
ON THE RECORD
, chef and owner of The Tannery, was the youngest in his family and always wanted to be older — so when his brother received a record player for Christmas, he was deeply envious.
“I am the youngest of eight children so what I wanted more than anything else was to be grown up,” he says. “And I remember the thing I really wanted one Christmas was a record player because that is what one of my older brothers had asked for.
“When it arrived on Christmas morning for him, I was astonished by it — it was the latest technology at the time and might as well have been a spaceship it was so amazing. I definitely had a touch of the green-eyed monster about me that day and I was warned not to touch it.
“I was only about seven years old at the time, so was never allowed near my brothers’ things — but I always wanted to have records and a record player of my own as we were really into music in our house.
“Funnily enough, when I headed off on the boat to England 10 years later, I was given that very same record player as well as the records and it was great because I still loved it as much as I did all those years ago.
These days there isn’t much that I long for at Christmas apart from cookery books I suppose, as I still love a good one — Nigel Slater is great as is Diane Henry — so if I got something by either of those I’d be happy.
When TV presenterwas aged 10, she desperately wanted a piece of inflatable furniture. Although she received the longed-for present, it didn’t work — which, she say was more disappointing than if she hadn’t received it.
“I was obsessed with Spice Girls and all things ’90s, so naturally I wanted an inflatable armchair,” she says.
“I told my parents I wanted a purple one — my all-time favourite colour — and even told them exactly where one might find one in the Rochestown Shopping centre in Blackrock, Co Dublin.
The only thing worse than not getting what you wanted is getting exactly what you wanted but it’s not working.
"Just imagine the sheer joy when I opened up my gifts on Christmas morning — a frenzy of wrapping paper, batteries, games, selection boxes, Christmas stockings all being tossed around and me in the corner bursting with joy, trying to figure out how to blow up my very own, brand new inflatable purple armchair.
“I enlisted the help of my dad and we tried everything (to blow it up) but my dad found a really big hole and the disappointment was overwhelming. I think that was the first time I ever had that horrible sinking feeling of dread and kept saying it was so unfair. Being the youngest of six, this of course was a huge laughing matter, so a lot of salt was poured into my aching wound. I was heartbroken.
“My friends and cousins all had theirs, blown up and I felt so left out and incredibly deflated. My parents eventually changed it in the new year — but the novelty had well and truly worn off — and, of course, all the purple ones were sold out. So I had to make do with a blue one. It just wasn’t the same. It sat gathering dust for the next year before it sank and turned into a puddle of plastic.
“This year I’m hoping for lots of laughs — hopefully not at my expense.
“It’s mine and Charlie’s first Christmas as husband and wife, so I want lots of lovely memories and maybe a surprise trip away — hint, hint, Charlie.”
It was the latest technology at the time and might as well have been a spaceship