In a year that’s unpredictable, confusing, and often upsetting, there’s one guarantee: Christmas is coming. It may not be the Christmas that we’re used to or the one we’ve come to know and love (or loathe) but it doesn’t mean that it can’t be very special anyway.
There won’t be boisterous Christmas parties where we dance on tables, roaring 'Fairytale of New York' at co-workers whose names we barely know, or a calendar on the fridge to keep track of nights out. There won’t be a Christmas morning visiting schedule so detailed that even five minutes extra in the in-laws could mean getting home to a turkey you could break your teeth on.
This year is going to be about new traditions. Instead of filling days with trips to the panto and visitors, it will be brisk walks, movie nights, board games, and all the things we think we’d like to do but are too busy to fit in.
Of course, it will be hard to miss family that we often only see once a year and we must all make an effort to make sure no one is lonely, but a lockdown festive season may be the chance we all need to unwind and reset in the strangest year we’ve ever faced.
Arguments about which in-laws you go to for dinner. A four-hour dinner at home with everyone’s favourite bits.
Office Kris Kindle.
Sending dozens of Christmas cards.
Your own bed all to yourself (until the kids pile in). Sleeping in a single bed in your mother’s house
Falling asleep in the taxi home
Falling asleep on Zoom so everyone sees you drooling.
Saving the good chocolates for visitors
Eating them all yourself when the kids go to bed.
Being all dressed up at 9am.
Staying in your novelty PJs all day.
Pretending to like sprouts.
Pretending to like sprouts (there’s some things even Covid can’t change)
For lots of people 2020 will be the first year they’ve ever cooked Christmas dinner. Don’t panic. If you really don’t feel up to it, there are lots of places where you can buy precooked turkey and ham to take the pressure off. If you’re ready to impress, however, there are excellent butchers all around the country, such as MJ O’Neill in Clonakilty and James Whelan in Clonmel ,who do Christmas boxes with everything you’d need. Many deliver, so you don’t have to brave the elements to collect them.
Your local butcher is a great place to start your food shopping, they’ll be able to give you advice on timings, amounts, and often have great recipes they’re happy to share. Order early and make sure you’ll have enough for those really important sandwiches.
Chef, food writer, and photographer Lilly Higgins has some excellent tips for making Christmas delicious.
Make a new tradition. This Christmas will probably be different so if you've had trifle every year it might be time to ring in the changes and make chocolate fondant or tiramisu. Practice makes perfect and planning ahead is always good so do a few trial runs to make sure there's no disappointment on the day.
We might not be able to all sit at the table together but I'm still going to make big batches of stuffing and bread sauce to give as gifts. They can be popped in the freezer and it's a few elements of what can be a complicated meal checked off the to-do list!
I make Jamie Oliver’s Get Ahead Gravy each year. Make it and stash in the fridge or freezer. It's made with chicken wings and you add the juices from the turkey. An absolute key to a fuss-free meal.
It always reminds me of Home Economics class in secondary school but a plan of work is essential! It's hard to keep so many plates spinning in the air so write out a list of what needs doing, including timings, and stick to them. Place the list on the fridge and tick things off as you go.
Delegate! Even if it's having my son folding napkins or my little daughter placing out the cutlery, it all helps and makes the day even more special to involve everyone.
Prep ahead as much as possible. From peeling potatoes to topping sprouts, there can always be prep done a few days before or even the night before Christmas when all through the house not even a mouse is stirring except for me sipping a glass of prosecco peeling parsnips while watching .
With pantos and Winter Wonderlands all over the country cancelled this year what we all need is consistency in a world gone mad. For the first year in its history,is going virtual. It will be the same but different, with the audience beamed in from home, toy testers and performers from Irish families all over the world, and some very special magic. Ryan Tubridy knows just how important the is to us all in the lead-up to Christmas and he promises to make it a night we’ll all remember.
"This year, more than any other that we have ever experienced in our lifetimes, Christmas is going to be so very important. While it feels that nothing is the same, and indeed, so much has changed for us all,remains, and we aim for it to be a night that brings complete joy for everyone watching. It's the one night where you can sit down at home with your family and join in the magic, even if we cannot all be together, it's something we can experience together. Everyone has been working so hard to ensure that it happens and that it's the best yet."
For lots of families Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without a trip to see Santa and his elves. Luckily lots of places he visits over the festive season are doing amazing things to make sure he can still come and see as many boys and girls as he can. Rathwood’s Santa Train in Carlow have been working hard to make sure all their visitors and Santa, Mrs Claus and the elves are safe. This year families will board individual pods on their Santa train and go through the forest where the reindeer live and down to the magical big top where you’ll see Santa Claus. The whole time you’re there you never leave your pod so it’s really safe.
Brenda Mulhall from Rathwood says they started planning for Christmas early in the year.
“When Easter was cancelled we knew we had to pull together and come up with a plan for Christmas. If we could get it over the line it needed to be a different Christmas than what we normally do. We’re lucky we have the facility of the big top in the forest and the road down there for the train so we had all the jigsaw pieces we just had to get it together. This year it’s about getting it back to basics, the smaller crowd going through, the more personal experience with the families, less hustle and bustle and back to basics of what it’s all about. We’re hoping to go ahead on December 5 as long as restrictions allow it and have created cast bubbles to ensure teams are always working with the same people. We’re just pushing forward and trying to stay positive. It’s about the kids seeing Santa safely but also keeping our staff, Santa and the elves safe.”
Shopping local and in independent stores has never been more important that it is this year. A good Christmas will mean that your favourite shop may just survive 2020 and be there when all this is over. Irish craftspeople, producers, and retailers need our help more than ever and it seems like we’ve stepped up.
Lisa Connolly runs Finder Keepers, an independent gift store in Waterford. “There is always talk of shopping local in the run-up to Christmas but we are really seeing it this year. At the till, so many people say to us with pride that they are making a big effort to keep all their shopping local. I honestly believe this could be the year that allows small businesses to finally grow.
"A good Christmas season is so important. It gives us a chance to build up reserves that will keep us running during quieter times of year. It also gives us the fuel to continue growing Finders Keepers, to continue sourcing and bringing new stock to the store. Small retailers work so hard all year, it's like training for a county final, but our county final comes in the form of Christmas!”
Like Rathwood, retailers have had to think of ways to make shopping special this year and Lisa is running private shopping events to make customers feel extra special and extra safe.
“I honestly think this Christmas will be more special than ever, we just have to make an extra effort to find the magic. We are offering a private shopping experience for any of our customers that are interested. We had our first little girl come in yesterday evening with her parents. We popped a sign on the door saying the shop was closed just for her and when she entered, we had a playlist playing all her favourite songs. We took her photo with a Polaroid camera and framed it so she will have something to remind her of that time the cool shop in town closed just for her! I hope we can give children an experience they will remember forever this Christmas!”
It’s all about the personal this year as illustrator Elaine Kellegher can attest to. She runs Lainey K where she sells Irish made greeting cards and prints. She found that both customers and retailers were buying her range of Christmas cards far earlier than usual this year. “I’ve seen a huge surge in card sales over the last few months with people using them instead of a text or DM as a meaningful means of communication. It’s so exciting to receive something in the post, especially when it’s a handwritten not from someone. I’ve also had a lot of international buyers too, expats who won’t make it home for Christmas this year.
Hello, lovely boys and girls, I’m writing to you all because we haven’t got long now until Christmas Eve. I’m very busy, but Mrs Claus just handed me the biggest cup of hot chocolate you’ve ever seen, and I thought that it’s the perfect time to write a letter.
It’s been a very strange year, hasn’t it? I know some of you are worried about what will happen on the big day but don’t fret, even though it’s been a little confusing and things have been a bit different where you live, everything has been working the same way it always has up here in the North Pole, although the elves have definitely been washing their hands more than usual!
We’re one big family up here, and we’ve always worked from home, so unlike your mummies and daddies we’re well set up.
All the letters you’ve sent so far have arrived, and I’ve read each and every one (I got that special request for you, Brian, and don’t worry, Joanne, that’s not too big for Rudolph to pull on the sled). If you haven’t sent yours, make sure you do it soon; Mrs Claus likes me to be well organised, you know.
I’ve seen how hard you’ve worked all year to mind your families, and keep your loved ones safe and well. You’ve done such a great job and I want you to know that I’m so proud of each and every one of you.
I know it hasn’t been easy and sometimes you’ve missed your cousins and nannies and grandads and friends, but I’ll let you in on a little secret. I’ve been around for a very, very, very long time and I know one thing to be true. Special friends and special family are special forever. Even though we may not see them for a little while, if you hold them in your heart they’ll always be near you.
Christmas Day this year may be a little different to the ones that have gone before, it might be a little more quiet and a little more cosy but that’s OK. Your grown-ups are working really hard to make it just as special as it always is.
And I’ll be there, like I always am, when you’re fast asleep to deliver your presents. Nobody is on the naughty list this year, we all deserve something nice. Just this once mind you! Next year I’ll be checking it twice again.
Well done boys and girls. Well done mammies and daddies and aunties and uncles and grannies and grandads. It’s time now for a little magic.
Le mo ghrá,
Ho, Ho, Ho,
(PS: Don’t worry about me coming into your house, my magic keeps me safe from the virus and Eddie, our head engineer elf, has built a special hand-sanitiser bottle into the back of the sled and Mrs Claus has made me some very nice masks to match my suit, so we’re all set for safety. See you soon x)