Working around the Christmas tree: Meet the people who will be in work on the big day

Working on Christmas day may seem like an alien concept to you, but for some people, it’s part and parcel of a career in service, reports Ciara McDonnell.

John Creedon

Each Christmas Day John Creedon broadcasts his special Christmas show, live from the RTÉ studios in Cork.

“Working Christmas Day has been the story of my life in many ways. I grew up in a grocery shop here in Cork and we were closed on Christmas day but invariably there would be someone knocking on the window looking for bread or milk or Paxo stuffing! It’s been a Christmas day of service for me all through the years. My parents were the most compassionate people ever and they would never leave a person stuck for anything.

I think that for a lot of people, Christmas day is about routine. In my own case, my show is part of a nice routine, which suits me. I work in the morning, and it brings out the kid in me. I sneak through the streets of Cork in the morning before people have woken up – it’s just the seagulls and myself.

I get into RTÉ at about 9am and I am on air from 11am to 1pm. It’s a very straightforward show but after thirty years in the game I would have an interesting selection of music to play. Usually in the selection I’ll play some of the big ones. I love Handel’s Messiah; it’s actually a really funky piece of work. I play everything from orchestral to modern music that’s seasonal — there could be a bit of African folk music thrown in there. I love dipping into old American soul and rhythm and blues — a lot of that is great fun. There are some songs that simply have to be played. The Pogues and Kirsty McCall have to get an outing of course.

What I have found increasingly interesting about this slot is that it has become a beacon for overseas listeners. What I find amazing is seeing the emails and texts coming in from all over the world — it’s mad to be able to connect with them. There are a bunch of Irish lads who cross Sydney Harbour Bridge every morning and listen to me when I’m on at night — they send me a picture most mornings. It’s the people all over the world who are looking for a taste of home on Christmas Day that I especially love playing for.”

  • John Creedon will present his Christmas show live on RTÉ Radio 1 on Christmas Day from 11am to 1pm.

Mark Dunne

As General Manager of Newpark Hotel, Mark Dunne is responsible for making sure that guests enjoy a perfectly seamless Christmas Day.

“Christmas Day is hectic, but only for a short time. I spend time with my children who are two and four and then head to the hotel where we get through a fairly hectic lunch and then I head back home to the family.

We have about 40 children staying each Christmas, and they all receive presents from Santa, who delivers them to their room in the morning. We try to make Christmas as fun as we possibly can for the staff that work with us on Christmas day, and while there are a few pressure points throughout the day, we try to make it enjoyable. We make sure that we are very well staffed so that they are not under pressure.

We have people who come regularly to Newpark for Christmas. We serve nearly 500 people for lunch on Christmas Day, with about 100 staff working on the day itself.

We have an extensive menu with a full wine service, and we want our guests to enjoy what should be the most important meal of the year.

We have non-stop entertainment from carol singers to a live band throughout the day, so there is a huge amount going on in the hotel. We want our guests to want for nothing on the day, and to feel as relaxed as possible.

One Christmas Day a number of years ago, a Mexican family walked in off the street, wondering where they could have lunch. We accommodated them of course, and set them up in the main dining room amongst all of our guests and they had the best day ever — they said they’ll be celebrating Christmas the Irish way from now on!”

Ger O’Farrell

Ward manager of St Catherine’s Palliative Care Ward at Marymount Hospice, Ger O’Farrell supports families on what can be a very difficult day.

“We have two palliative care floors with 44 beds at Marymount, but we may not have all the beds filled on Christmas Day.

What we try to endeavour and do is that anyone who can get out and get home — even for a few hours, is facilitated. We are quite conscious that for some people it’ll be their last Christmas, and anyone who is well enough to get home, we get home.

For patients who are not well enough, we make Christmas here — we have been very busy here putting up trees and decorations on the ward.

On the day, families will come in and have a bite to eat together, depending on how their relative is feeling. It’s difficult. You go into one room where people are full of Christmas cheer and then in another room you might have someone who is dying, so we try to support them on the day in whatever way we can — it’s a very emotive day for everyone. We do our best to make it special for everyone who is with us.

We have an amazing team, and when you meet everyone from the receptionist to the cleaning staff to the nursing staff, you’ll experience how genuine and special it is.

Anyone who comes here is welcome to make their room their home for the time they are here, whether that’s a long or a short time. With palliative care, some people might come in feeling very unwell and stay with us for a short time before going home again. If you have good palliation, you can go home again and that can make people live longer.

You couldn’t do this job unless you love it. I can’t say enough about the team that I work with. We’ll be here on Christmas Day, but we’ll be with our second family. We support each other. Working here can be sad, but it’s not our sad. We need to be able to go out of one room and into another and be present in that room with that person. It’s a very happy place as well because we are all so appreciative of what we have, because we can go home at the end of the day.”

Margaret Kelleher

Margaret is the person who makes Christmas happen at Sheen Falls Lodge. She is in charge of putting trees in every bedroom — not to mention looking after guests on the day.

“Christmas is a big deal at Sheen Falls. I am very lucky, because my group of staff come from all over Europe and from here in Ireland, which is perfect in terms of Christmas staffing. Lots of Europeans celebrate Christmas on the 24th, so I give those staff Christmas Eve off, and then they work Christmas Day to relieve our Irish staff. It’s the one day of the year when nobody calls in sick, because they know the pressure that they are putting everyone else under. The day is fun, and we are finished by about half two. It’s not easy to be away from home and we try to make it enjoyable for our staff, because it’s hard to be away from loved ones.

I’ve been working at Sheen Falls for fifteen years. Christmas is one of the easiest days of the year for housekeeping staff, because there are no check-outs and no arrivals. It’s the one day of the year when people are up early. The housekeeping ladies will start at eight and be finished at around at 2pm. A lot of the guests don’t want their rooms cleaned on Christmas day. It’s a really nice day to work. The guests who come to us for Christmas have been coming for many years.

One or two of the children have now got married and are now bringing children of their own for Christmas, so it’s a really special time. They know the staff, and the staff knows them, so there’s a really familial atmosphere.

The guests will go to Mass and then at around 11, Santa will arrive in a 1936 Buick. He gets to meet all the children who are guests but also all the children of the employees.

I love Christmas morning. Santa always leaves footprints in the lobby and I adore the excitement of it.”

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