Cool Yule: 30 ways to have a stress-free Christmas
Take the hassle out of the festive season by following our expert guide
Look out for pre-lit Christmas trees to remove the annual light detangling from your to-do list
Turkey bought? Done. List made and checked twice? Check. Champagne on ice? Of course. Yet even the best-laid plans can be derailed by last-minute issues, fiddly inconveniences and curve balls that no one sees coming.
We asked a few experts, and some well-known faces, for last-minute hacks and strategies that can help fine-tune the big day and keep stresses to a minimum.
Alison Curtis’s top tip
“I am lucky in that each Christmas we are invited to my husband’s family so I don’t actually ever have to host or cook that turkey. What I do from November onwards is look out for booze deals, so we don’t arrive empty-handed.”
How to get a festive proposal right
Do it with a fake ring. Seamus Fahy, owner of Voltaire Diamonds in Dublin, says a €30 number from Argos will do the job of popping the question just fine – and then choose the actual ring your fiancée will wear together. “Eighty per cent of our clients are couples coming in together, but one in five guys do it on their own,” he says.
How to get party make-up right (with no effort)
“Think Beyoncé at Coachella, ” advises Donna Morris, make-up artist at Make Up For Ever, Dublin. “Beyoncé’s make-up artist Sir John packed pure gold glitter onto her lids and finished off with a slick of black liner and standout lashes.”
How to knock together a fail-safe Christmas cocktail
Oisin Davis from Great Irish Beverages says: “The Jameson Hand Warmer is a hot spiced apple that you top up with Jameson. To make 20 serves you will need: one bottle of Jameson, three litres of pressed Irish apple juice, 50g of fresh ginger (washed and coarsely chopped), one jar of date syrup, the zest and juice of three lemons, three cinnamon quills, one tablespoon of cloves, three star anise and six green cardamom pods. Pour the apple juice in a large pot and bring it to the boil. Wrap all the spices and lemon zest in a cheesecloth and drop it into the apple juice. When it comes to the boil, let it simmer for 30 minutes. Then add in the lemon juice and date syrup and stir to combine. For each serve, place a 35ml shot of Jameson into a mug and top it up with 120ml of hot juice.”
Boil the ham on Christmas Eve evening and undercook slightly – let it cool overnight in the same water, cover, and it will be perfect for the next day
How to mind the Christmas calories (easily)
“According to the British Dietetic Association, the average person will consume 6,000 calories on Christmas Day,” says Orla Walsh of the Dublin Nutrition Centre. “Here’s an easy-to-achieve tip; researchers have shown that drinking a large glass of water (500ml) 30 minutes before eating can reduce the amount eaten at the following meal without much effort. If you’re heading out to dinner, eat beans, peas, chickpeas or lentils at lunchtime. Eating them daily has been shown to increase the feeling of fullness by 31 per cent.”
Author John Boyne’s stress-free Christmas formula
“I wake early on Christmas morning, hoping that Santa has come, but he hasn’t, because I’m a monster and I’ve behaved terribly all year. So I open a bottle of Champagne, enjoy a glass, and listen to some Kate Bush. Then I enjoy another glass and read an Alice Munro short story. Then I enjoy a third glass and heat up one of those M&S snack foods that look amazing on the box but don’t taste all that good in real life. Then I enjoy a glass of Champagne and remember how great it was to be a kid and get a massive Lego set at Christmas and hope that someone might get me a massive Lego set this Christmas. Then I finish the bottle of Champagne and wait for my dad to pick me up to bring me to enjoy the day with the people I love the most – my family.”
Derry Clarke’s fuss-free Christmas Eve prep list:
1. Shop for any last bits and pieces.
2. Set the table completely – leave everything else on a side table, such as bread baskets, butter dishes etc, at the ready.
3. Put all white wines, Champagne/sparkling, beers, etc, in the fridge and have your ice, lemon and lime slices ready too.
4. Peel and prepare the vegetables and potatoes.
5. Prepare the dessert and keep in the fridge on a tray ready for the next day.
6. Boil the ham on Christmas Eve evening and undercook slightly – let it cool overnight in the same water, cover, and it will be perfect for the next day.
7. Make the stuffing for the turkey and refrigerate.
8. Make the cranberry sauce, cool and refrigerate.
9. Keep the turkey in the fridge overnight.
10. Slice the smoked salmon or dress the crabmeat and put in the fridge.
11. If soup is your starter, make it the day before.
Rick O’Shea’s stress-free Christmas
“The way we manage a mostly stress-free Christmas is by disappearing from the country. Liz (my wife) and I don’t do presents for Christmas or our birthdays, instead we usually head off somewhere (preferably somewhere with snow – we’ve done Stockholm and Copenhagen in the last few years). Also, we never go out on New Year’s Eve – we have my kids and stay in eating and watching Jools Holland. Always the best night. Simple.”
Síle Seoige’s stress-free Christmas
“Embrace the magic (and practicality) of Kris Kindle. It’ll mean less time stressing over what to buy and for who, less time scouring the shops or scrolling online, and it’ll be kinder to your pocket too.”
How to cope with relationship pressure at Christmas
“The three main pressure areas tend to be centred around the four Fs: Finance, Family, Food and Fantasy,” notes relationship counsellor Bernadette Ryan. “Christmas brings additional financial costs. Most people overspend and extend their credit to the max. Try and take stock, make a list of essential spending, figure out a budget and stick to it. The extended time together can also put additional strain on an already challenged relationship and conflict can escalate. Take a breath or a time-out, which will give you the opportunity to respond rather than react.”
Terry Prone’s guide to talking politics at the dinner table
“The first thing to learn is not to argue when you can’t change people’s minds,” says communications expert Terry Prone. “Just as they say there’s no crying in baseball, there’s no fighting in politics if there’s no possibility of change. The best thing is to say to someone, ‘I find that interesting’ or ‘you make a good point’, and just keep quiet after that.”
How to wrap presents like a professional
“My number-one tip is to invest in a Sellotape dispenser,” advises Daragh Hickey, concierge at the Westin Hotel, Dublin. “Even better, use double-sided sticky tape to make your gift-wrapping look more professional. For perfectly-cut wrapping paper, use a rotary or pizza cutter on a flat surface or chopping board instead of your usual scissors.”
A fuss-free outfit for Christmas Day
“It’s a day where you see a lot of people so you want to look nice but it’s also a day that involves lots of toy-opening, turkey-cooking and general moving around so you can’t discount practicality either,” says stylist Judy Gilroy. “My advice is to aim for the middle. Or rather, the midi-length dress or skirts. It ticks all of my Christmas style boxes: it’s sophisticated, it’s appropriate, and best of all, you can wear it again.”
How to retain a Christmas glow
“Having a good skincare regimen is great, however, you also need to hydrate your skin from within by drinking at least two litres of water daily,” says Brendan Molloy of the South William Clinic & Spa, Dublin. “Supplements containing ingredients such as omega 3 and 6 fish oils, evening primrose oil and the all-important skin-vitamin, A, are great for nourishing and hydrating the skin.”
How to make your tree last throughout Christmas
“Usually, people have the bog-standard stand that they screw the tree into but there’s another one you can get where the legs kick up to allow the tree to sit into a bucket,” advises Karl O’Neill of O’Neill Tree Services in Dublin. “Fill it with water, and keep refilling as the water will be gone within two days. Also, put in a couple of teaspoons of sugar along with every few gallons of water.”
How to stay active when it’s the last thing you want to do
“The holiday period is a great opportunity to add some outdoor activity,” says Diarmuid McSweeney of Gym + Coffee. “If you’re lucky enough to enjoy a solid break over the holidays or are heading up or down the country for some family time, then your normal regimen has already been shaken up. Make the most of it by finding out if there’s a local community group organising a Christmas or New Year’s morning swim – a cold dip does wonders for the circulation and has other mental and physical health benefits too.”
Choosing the right party suit
“A tuxedo is a must-have for the party season,” says David O’Connor of Louis Copeland. “Go for a single-button jacket – this is what separates a tux jacket from a standard black jacket. The lapels are very important – a peak lapel will accentuate your shoulder line; you can go for a classic shawl collar as an alternative to the peak lapel, which will give you more of a sophisticated look.”
Ray D’Arcy’s perfect Christmas party playlist
“Oddly, I think the secret to a good Christmas party playlist is to include Christmas songs sparingly – just like Christmas food, too much Christmas music can make you nauseous,” he says. “These are the songs that I would like to hear if I was around in my friend’s house and dancing was on the cards.”
1. Human – Rag’n’Bone Man
2. No Diggity – Blackstreet, Dr Dre, Queen Pen
3. Tilted – Christine and the Queens
4. Last Christmas – Wham!
5. Billie Jean – Michael Jackson
6. I Wanna Dance With Somebody – Whitney Houston
7. Rapper’s Delight – The Sugarhill Gang
8. Uptown Funk – Bruno Mars
9. Cake By The Ocean – DNCE
10. Can’t Hold Us – Macklemore & Ryan Lewis
11. Hey Ya! – Outkast
12. Feel It Still – Portugal. The Man
13. Liberty Bell – Autamata
14. Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This) – Eurythmics
15. You Got The Love – Candi Staton and The Source
16. All I want For Christmas Is You – Mariah Carey
17. You Should Be Dancing – Bee Gees
18. Celebration – Kool & The Gang
19. I Got You – James Brown
20. Fairytale of New York – The Pogues and Kirsty McColl
21. Never Do A Tango With An Eskimo – Alma Cogan
How to shop for a jewellery present
“When buying for your loved one, try to sneak a look at their jewellery collection,” suggests jewellery designer Mairead de Blaca. “Are the pieces generally small or larger? Do they prefer silver or gold, or even a mixture of both? Check if their ears are pierced, do they have dangly or stud earrings? Do they have a preferred design theme: flowers, minimalist forms or hearts? Do they have a preference for a particular type of jewellery: necklaces, earrings or rings? If all else fails, phone a friend of theirs.”
Surviving the Christmas shopping crowds
“Thursday, Friday and weekends are generally the busiest times but if you can be flexible about when you shop you may very well avoid the mad crowds,” suggests Derek McDonnell, centre manager at the Jervis Shopping Centre. “Check out store gift guides and Christmas offers in advance of your shopping trip to make finding the perfect gift easier. Look on retailers’ websites and social media pages for all the latest discounts and then write down the things you want to buy.”
The only roast potato recipe you’ll ever need
“A really clever, easy way to save valuable time on Christmas Day and guarantee the perfect crunchy, fluffy roast potatoes is to prep them well in advance and freeze them. Sounds crazy but it really works,’ says chef Atish Bhuruth of The Butcher Grill.
“Place in cold, salted water, bring to the boil and simmer for about eight minutes until they’re just getting soft around the edges. Coat with seasoned flour and duck fat. Spread out on a tray and freeze. When frozen, you can throw them all into a freezer bag. They’ll keep for months. About an hour before you want to serve them, preheat some more duck fat or oil in a roasting tray in a hot oven (about 180C). Add the frozen roasties, cook for one hour, or until golden brown, turning them half-way through.”
Top comebacks for the ‘have you got a man yet?’ line of questioning:
1. No... have you?
2. I do! We’re keeping in touch via letter as he’s on Death Row right now, but I know he’s The One.
3. Yes. His name’s God.
4. Take it from me Granny, as soon as I get serious with any of them, you and my gynaecologist will be the first to know.
Survive a night in the family home
Difficult though it may be, try to remember that you are an adult, with your own home and life, and you are, for all intents and purposes, a guest. Ergo, no guzzling milk directly from the carton, no remote control hogging and no sitting in your room sulking into your iPad.
How to triumph at the St Stephen’s Day sales
Preparation is key to a successful expedition. Come the morning of sales day, have a high-fibre, low-GI breakfast (think muesli, yoghurt and smoothies as opposed to chocolate muffins and lattes). Another rule of thumb is to go solo, or at least with a friend who has a different dress size and personal style.
Avoid the Christmas Day buzz kill
Calculate how many batteries you are going to need... and buy twice that amount.
Many stores now sell pre-lit Christmas trees, taking the sting out of the annual detangling brouhaha
How to beat a hangover
According to Charlie Turner of Neat Nutrition, we’ll all be on the pickle juice soon. “Yes, it sounds dire, but if you can hold your nose and just down it, this is a widely accepted hangover cure. The vinegar, water and sodium super combo is the ultimate ‘pick-me-up’, combating dehydration and boosting energy. It’s worth adding some honey, not only to sweeten up the salty concoction but also to restore blood glucose levels,” he says.
Keep on top of the laundry pile
Sounds obvious, but try looking for matching socks on St Stephen’s Day. Similarly, schedule in that big Christmas clean asap. Break it down into tasks and spread out over the week – or pay a professional to take care of it.
How to accessorise for Christmas parties
“A hat or a headpiece can transform an outfit,” says Irish milliner Aoife Harrison. “Pop on a crystal feather hairband or an embellished cocktail hat with a little black dress and you have the perfect outfit. A hat or headpiece can shift the focus away from the dress and it’s an easy way to introduce some colour into your outfit.”
Packing up Christmas decorations
Sick of sorting, storing and dealing with fairy lights year after year? Many stores such as Marks & Spencer now sell pre-lit Christmas trees, taking the sting out of the annual detangling brouhaha.
The secret to getting a restaurant table at Christmas
According to Declan Maxwell, manager at Luna Restaurant in Dublin, politeness goes a long way. “It helps to be a regular first,” he says. “We do lot of online reservations but the personal touch on the phone, and someone’s tone, is important. If you’re nice and honest, we’ll try our best.
“Walking in to the restaurant on the off-chance can often pay off too, as you’re essentially facing the person doing the bookings,” he adds.