How to host a stress-free family Christmas

Hosting guests for Christmas? Kya deLongchamps plants her tongue firmly in her cheek and shows how to achieve peace and harmony at a time of year when circumstances can test the best of welcomes.

Close friends and cosy old relatives can generally ignore the failings in our day-to-day domestic round. However, Christmas delivers up all sorts of boarders, and some not so forgiving. If you are centred enough not to care, Carol, Aileen, and Esther have some lovely features over the pages. Otherwise, fix on that sparkling smile and jig two steps ahead with my tips for the truly terrified host family.

Espionage and FHB

As a wide-eyed fawn, I was taken in, red-eyed and dragging bags of clothes behind me, by the wonderful Mrs PG. PG could summon the ancient arts of a genteel household education, making an occasion a wonderful occasion, and enriching simple pleasures when company came clacking up to the front door (for a few deliberately candle-lit hours anyway).

She whipped up mouth-watering kedgeree from tinned salmon for unexpected suppers, and decanted corner-store wine to hide its price behind cuts of old Waterford glass.

We were often cold, sometimes hungry, argued constantly, but by God, PG could put on a Hermes silky front. She tutored us by example in crucial strategies known to all cash-strapped women threatened by youngsters exploring a trifle with a plunging desert spoon, or refreshing their pusses on the cloudy towels intended for invaders.

Entertaining on the fly from the kitchen, one side of PGs face was elegantly tilted back to the fire-gilded crowd. A tinkling upper-class giggle conjured tales of thick covets of mink, Horse Show balls, and mid-century romances.

Meanwhile, across her other breast, and the glugs on the failing hob, PG delivered domestic espionage in dangerous whispers to us: “FHB girls, FHB.”

Family Hold Back

FHB is a device, a group effort that puts visitors first, and first always. They eat first, bathe first, seize the meatiest lamb chop, two kisses at bed-time, it’s simply the best of everything. Deploying FHB should be carefully done. Choose your moments. When Dympna is reaching for the last slice of glazed turkey and the new mother-in-law’s hand is travelling resolutely over the oil-cloth, a smart ‘FHB’ expressed with a heel directly onto the bony part of the upper foot for D works wonders.

Suck it up

Stock the fridge, freezer, and pantry with cooked meals, fresh foods, and leftovers with the Food Saver Automatic Vacuum sealer, on offer at Debenhams for €87.75. Recover space and hide a season’s clothes with some simple Vacuum Storage bags with anti-reflow valves, from €4.99 a set HomeStore & More,

Love means

Never having to say ‘good morning’. It is a truth universally acknowledged that when people achieve non-agricultural houses on hectares, they begin the tender process of pushing lesser overnight guests further and further away from the beating heart of the family.

It starts with the self-contained bedroom suite down a snaking corridor. Then there’s the slight of a tea-station, a little woven B&B style tray with a ginger bickie along the lines of Aer Lingus economy class. Banishment increases to a distant wing, as the years and square metres pass.

An outbuilding is converted (the piggery, the quackery, the stables — you get the point). By now there’s a full kitchen provided and a separate entrance discreetly around a corner from the front façade of the main house.

Finally, if you’re a big winner, really lucky, you upsize and lodge the imposters at the steward’s house beside the mighty granite flanked splay. There, uncertain if they are even staying with you anymore, they perform unexpected useful tasks like clashing the gates closed behind the cars of other more important intimates who’ve made it to the bothy or the coach-house. Still, there’s something to be learned here.

That kettle

It’s a simple, classic, hotel touch, an outpost of politely suggested independence. When Gearoid has decanted his nappy in a wandering Christmas star over the sitting-room wall, or the husband has (again) brought up that ‘gorgeous’ girl he met at Irish camp in Spiddal in 1987, the kettle speaks through its beak to back off and stay in their rooms.

Counting the tea-bags to cover the stay to the hour? A bit obvious, but how deep does your desperation runs — who are we to judge?

Keep them in bed

A pod coffee machine can be deployed to guest quarters when needed and recovered the rest of the year to the kitchen. Starting with value, the Dolce Gusto range from Nescafe and Delonghi starts at €54.99 for their versatile and chic Oblo Manual,

Bathroom behaviours and bouncy beds

Time and disaster calluses us with experience. In terms of impressing guests, one thing is, and will always remain true — you can have authentic Erté bristling off the Bombe encrusted cabinets, but if anyone from 18 months to 80 years leaves a skid-mark up the personal porcelain, I’m afraid it’s all over.

Toilet brushes are disgusting objects in terms of hygiene, but during a stay, don’t leave your visitor abandoned with an unmentionable problem and no weapon in hand. Give the kids a good threatening on the matter; it’s Christmas, they are expecting much, they are vulnerable. If the family bathroom is shared, colour-code the towels, with white for guests and a stain-devouring colour for your 14-year-old, Pan-stick Mary.

If the teen has an ensuite and older guests on a longer billet, don’t — then, - do I have to say it - heave ho. Once they have their phone and charger, they would probably sleep in the car. My house is diminutive and we give up our master to in-laws and oldies.

Yes, it’s troublesome, a royal pain, but to veterans, it’s a stoic demonstration of love and graciousness that won’t go unnoticed.

At the end of the day, it can actually make you feel quite fuzzy inside. For beds erected for the duration, or the dreaded inflatable, the most crucial points are height and support; that’s independent support that takes heed of dexterity and the weight differences of couples.

I think you can sketch out that cartoon – funny for about six minutes, but potentially damaging to both dignity and muscle fibre. Find something set well off the floor (then wheedle youngsters out of their bedroom onto it).

Comfy enough

A sofa bed with a firm feel, the Lovas from IKEA includes crucial space to stash the double duvet if the room is used by day. Excellent price for nice, clean lines in a three-seater sofa, with a choice of covers to match the room. €275, IKEA.

Harvey Norman does a good line in classic click-clack beds from €279.

Site an ottoman for hiding bedding and you’re good to go.

More on this topic

Meet the five Boho types you'll meet at festivals this summerMeet the five Boho types you'll meet at festivals this summer


REVIEW: This superb adaptation of A Christmas Carol puts a contemporary twist on Dickens' classic tale, writes Alan O'RiordanReview: A Christmas Carol, Gate Theatre, Dublin

Move over quinoa.Everything you need to know about fonio, the ancient grain we’ll all be eating in 2020

The former heptathlete and all-round super woman chats to Lauren Taylor about how to stay fit in pregnancy and body confidence after a baby.Dame Jessica Ennis-Hill: ‘There’s still a lot of stigma attached to exercising pregnant’

Behaving aggressively is a stage many toddlers go through. The author of The Wonder Weeks explains how parents should deal with kids who kick & bite.Ask an expert: How can I stop my toddler kicking and biting?

More From The Irish Examiner