It's Christmas As our idea of what makes a family diversifies, so do festive gatherings
Charlotte McCallum Mallard (right) and her wife Beth Mallard and their 22-month-old daughter Lola, at home in Galway. Photograph: Joe O’Shaughnessy
Brian Finnegan and Miguel Gernaey, at home in Killiney, Dublin. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill
Paulina Abzieher and her daughter Alice, preparing for Christmas, at home in Dublin. Photograph:Dara Mac Donaill
Sorcha O’Driscoll with her husband Bryan Curley and baby Conall, at home in Swords, Co Dublin.Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill
Christmas Day celebrations have come a long away since the manger, and today’s festive families can be made up of everyone from friends and neighbours to step-parents or siblings and single parents, with new generations around the table or this generation absent due to emigration. We talk to to four families about their Christmas plans.
Austrian Paulina Abzieher has been living permanently in Ireland with her daughter Alice for the last five years. She and Alice are spending Christmas in Vienna with Paulina’s nearest and dearest, her mother, Christina, her step-father, Peter, and her step-sister, Heidi, who is the same age as her. Although Peter and Christina have been together for 25 years, Paulina and Heidi didn’t live together as children.
Alice has no contact with her father. “Not having her dad around is a 365-day a year situation. Christmas is no different.”
The festive season in Vienna is all about Christmas Eve, Paulina explains. It is tradition that the tree is decorated on December 24th. The children don’t get to see it until after the angel Kris Kindle has visited and delivered presents. The decoration of the tree with lit candles and glass baubles form part of his duties. Afterwards, the family gathers around the tree to read the story of Christmas and sing carols. Silent Night is a favourite.
Later that evening they sit down to their festive celebrations, a big dinner together. Roast beef, goose or carp have all been served at Christmases past. They also bake traditional biscuits like gingerbread - a custom Paulina’s grandmother, who passed away this year, taught her.
“We’re lucky. We don’t see each other that much so there is very little to argue about. My parents love to spoil Alice. They take her ice skating and to visit the Christmas market. It means I get a break from parenting duties.”
When Paulina spends Christmas in Ireland it is with her new extended family, One Family members, who share the babysitting, shopping and emergencies that usually fall to members of the more traditional family to help out with.
“Either way Alice gets the best of both worlds because in addition to the gift giving on December 24th she receives gifts from the Irish Santa on December 25th,” Paulina explains.
Meeting donor Daddy
Charlotte McCallum-Mallard and her wife Beth Mallard have been together five and a half years. They met at a world food festival in Dunedin on New Zealand’s South Island
They wanted to have a baby and some years ago asked a close friend, Chris Hopkins, also from New Zealand, to be their donor. He took a year to consider the proposal. When he said ‘yes’ he was single but then met a girl who, in Charlotte’s words, ‘lost her lolly’, a kiwi term for going ballistic, when she heard the news. She believed the couple wouldn’t want to know Chris once he had donated.