Friends Thalia Heffernan and Erica Cody
Best friends, Irish model Thalia Heffernan and musician Erica Cody met in 2018 through a mutual friend, over a boozy lunch and have never looked back. They share a bond that they describe as more sister-like than best mates. “It’s great, it’s not every day you get to share a similar life with somebody who you love and care about, it’s hard to have a genuine friendship in this industry but when Thalia and I met each other it was like love at first sight!,” says Erica, “You’re stuck with me now,” Thalia chimes in.
Since Thalia’s return from New York to Dublin in recent months, the two women have been inseparable, joking that they have separation anxiety when they are apart.
When asked what Christmas means for Thalia, she says “I guess for the past couple of years Christmas has been a journey because I have usually had to leave somewhere, to get home. It can be chaos but in the loveliest way. I get to see my nieces and nephews, sister, dad, and mum. You know, there’s a lot of family time involved. It’s one of those things that tends to go by in a blur but a busy happy love bubble blur!”
Growing up, she has vivid memories of the night before Christmas “I grew up in an old house and I had a chimney in my bedroom so Santa would drop gifts directly into my room. There was so much excitement and anticipation. I’ve two older sisters who I would drive crazy trying to wake them up too early. My dad travelled for work, so he would be home which was lovely.”
Thalia says her favourite part of Christmas is the food. “I tend to do my own Christmas dinner as I’m vegan, so I do a plant-based version of a Christmas dinner. I love cooking and the act of bringing something to the table for everyone to enjoy. Christmas Eve drinks with the family and kids is lovely, I don’t get to see the kids as much as I’d like, so it’s magical.”
Erica’s childhood Christmas experiences involved spending alternate years with her parents because they were separated. One year, she celebrated with her dad, the next year with her mum. While Christmas was joyful for her as a child, once she got older it expanded to include her own friends and traditions. She uses the time around the holiday to reflect and think about what she is looking forward to in the new year. As everything slows down and stops, she finds it’s a perfect time to be introspective.
Musing about her favourite parts of Christmas, Erica says “I’m a big Mariah Carey fan, so I love being able to enjoy the bubble of Christmas music. My dad is from South Carolina, so he makes the best Christmas dinner ever. We’re talking fried chicken, mac and cheese. It’s amazing. The food and the company. I have a younger brother who is nine and Christmas is a huge deal for him. Having him in my life has given a new meaning to it for me.”
Thalia expects to wind down her work a bit by November. She will continue to travel back and forth to New York in the coming months but has recently made Dublin her permanent home once again.
Erica will pump the brakes at Christmas as the music industry takes a rest but is looking forward to her Eurovision 2024 bid and a handful of other projects, personally and professionally.
‘I’m also planning a Christmas dinner just for the two of us and our dogs, whether it’s on Christmas Eve or another date. We’re going to have our own little Christmas’ says Thalia. – Emer Roche
Couple Katja Mia and Daragh Curran
After making a Tinder match in 2015, like many young people (and older) navigating the world of online dating, it was another two years before the new presenter on Virgin Media’s The Six O’Clock show, Katja Mia and former Guinness Guru Daragh Curran would meet IRL, as they say. Daragh moved to New Zealand not long after they matched online. In 2017, upon his return to Ireland, he messaged Katja – who was then on an Erasmus programme in Germany.
“We kept liking each other’s pictures though, which is a way of staying in touch and flirting online. For our first date, we went to Leisureplex, and he was a gent from the get-go,” Katja remembers.
Now living together, it has taken a while for their Christmases to align. Katja’s is loud and chaotic with a Burundian feast at 10pm, while Daragh’s family takes the more traditional Irish route of a few drinks before lunch and turkey and ham at 3pm.
“Kat was a grinch when I met her, she never liked Christmas,” Daragh says.
“Well, I was always working right up to the day (in retail) so it was never a big deal for me,” she laughs. “As well as that, a Burundian Christmas is very religious, it’s about the birth of Jesus, it’s not about presents or decorations. That’s very westernised. In Burundi, where my family comes from, it’s about church and food. However, Daragh loves Christmas, so he has brought that out in me. Decorating now makes me excited, getting the tree and putting up fairy lights. I love all that now.”
Katja will host her mum and sisters in their apartment, where they will cook together. “It’s chaotic but so much fun. We have Home Alone on in the background, one sister makes the drinks, another helps me cook.”
“I get a half and half experience,” Daragh says, “have a nice big breakfast with Kat. In typical Christmas-day style, Kat’s family say they’ll be there at 12pm but won’t arrive till 5pm so I’m in no rush to get out. I’ll have dinner in my family home, watch a movie then back at 8pm and into the madness with Kat’s family. It means I get to eat two dinners, which is great”.
‘This Christmas’, which features Idris Elba, is Katja’s favourite festive film, not only because of the importance of Black representation on screen but because it’s extremely funny. “It showcases the Black Christmas. It has an all-Black cast, and it mimics my own Christmas”. Motown will be played on Spotify and the song by the same name sung by Johnny Mathis is special to Katja. A festive viewing of Elf in the Stella cinema in Rathmines last year sealed this as Daragh’s favourite Christmas movie.
“I was born in Germany but have lived in Ireland since I was 17 months old, but the foundation of my home is still there. I have a lot of family all over the world, not just in Burundi but Belgium, Sweden and Germany. I remember using call cards to ring family back home in Burundi on Christmas day to say hi to my grandma. I haven’t been there for Christmas yet but would love to at some stage,” she says.
Both are busy workwise and Katja has very early starts on Ireland AM, so getting two weeks off at Christmas means a lot of down time spent ‘on the couch’. “We’re not party animals but together we have fun,” they chime. – Mimi Murray
Friends Killian Sundermann and Shane Daniel Byrne
A quick-fire round of Christmas questions posed to comedians Killian Sundermann and Shane Daniel Byrne quickly descends into hilarity, which is common when the friends, who became popular during lockdowns for their Instagram reels, get together.
When asked what his favourite Christmas movie is, Killian says, “the one that we watched together, what is it? ‘I love Christmas’, ‘I love you, Christmas’. ‘Christmas, I actually love you’.” Shane deadpans, “Love Actually?”
Shane says the crescendo part of ‘O Holy Night’ is his favourite yuletide song and the lads burst into a chorus on the spot.
With similar senses of humour, it’s easy to see why the two want to work together more and have a podcast coming out this month with fellow comedian Tony Cantwell.
“My favourite Christmas memory is just swimming in the Forty-foot on Christmas morning and being forced to have whiskey afterwards at around 11am,” Killian says.
For Shane it’s the year he got Nintendo 64, “Santa gave it to all of us to be shared among the siblings and I’ll never forget seeing it sitting in the middle of the livingroom. We are a family of boys, so there is a natural hierarchy, the oldest boy he is the biggest jerk, so he got to decide what we were playing and when, it’s just nature,” he says in all sincerity.
Killian recalls Christmas of 2002 when his mum bought a Nokia 3210 to be shared between his five siblings, including his one-year-old brother “I don’t think that phone left my sister’s possession for the whole year, it just became hers”.
“I love stopping at Christmas but I’m happy for it to be just a day, I don’t need a big lead-in. I think eat a lot. In fact, eat Christmas dinner twice! I find presents a bit stressful because I’m not good at getting them,” says Shane.
Being a vegetarian, Killian’s Christmas dinner looks a bit different to the traditional. “The food isn’t the main event for me, it can be tricky to find vegetarian options that compete with the traditional turkey and ham. Every year I try to produce a nut roast, but it’s just awful and ends up tasting like wet cardboard. So, for me, it’s family – all my siblings live abroad and it’s a great time to get to see them. As for my chosen family, like Shane here, we get to see a lot of each other at Christmas because there are lots of shows or gigs on.”
In comedy, the lads say that you see your colleagues a lot more than your friends as you are doing a lot of gigging and therefore you become close. “Obviously Tony (Cantwell) wasn’t good-looking enough to be in this photo shoot today” Killian jokes, “but the three of us are starting a podcast called ‘Young Hot Guys’. There’s also ‘Christmas Crackers’ on in Vicar Street on the December 6 which is going to be a whole host of fun, it will be a party, it will be comedy and it will be music”.
Shane says he would consider doing festive panto. “I’d like to do a panto, I’m dying to do more singing and panto is a relaxed environment, the singing doesn’t have to be perfect.”
Not yet sure where he will spend Christmas this year, last year it was in his partner’s family home in Wexford. His boyfriend’s nephew was there and he says he really enjoyed Santa visiting for the first time in years.
Killian and his girlfriend split it between them, “Christmas Eve is the main event in Germany and as my dad is German and my mum is half-German, many of our traditions are inspired by this. We eat a lot of biscuits!”
Christmas is a time of indulgence so it’s just overeating chocolates and drinking wine, alcohol generally, and then some more food. We will probably get gout!’ – Emer Roche
Mother and daughter Helen and Halle Steele
Christmas is an incredibly busy time for Irish designer Helen Steele, so when it comes to getting the decorations out, she is more last minute than early in the month of December. Decorating the tree is a family event, and together with her two daughters Chloe and Halle and son Ronnie they make paper chains crafted with her signature hand-painted splatter paint.
The festive season has changed and expanded and contracted for her and her family over the years. She looks back nostalgically on Christmastime gone by in Monaghan, where she lived for 21 years.
“It was just incredible when the kids were growing up – their grandparents are wonderful cooks, and they would host the dreamiest Christmas day. Drinks for the adults, while the children opened their presents, terrific food, and Monaghan has beautiful countryside which just shimmers in colder, snowy weather which we were lucky to get several times over the years,” she says.
Christmas included a spiritual element for the Steele’s. When her kids were small, there was a prayer service in the house and everyone would speak about what they were grateful for over the past year.
She loves when Christmas kicks in and festive songs start to play on the radio. As much as she enjoys a little Shakin’ Stevens and Wham, she fondly recalls being in her all-girls boarding school in Rathnew at Christmas. Several male recruits were drafted in to add some tenor to the choir. The school itself was an old Georgian building which was the perfect backdrop for candlelight and hymns on the stairs.
Another tradition Helen shares with her children is ordering pizza every Christmas Eve and watching ‘Home Alone’. The first time they did it, sparking the ongoing custom, they were in rural Monaghan and delivery pizza was a new indulgence with the opening of an Apache pizza in the town.
Traditional Christmas dinners are a must. 21-year old model Halle, who refers to her mother as her “best friend”, says they have created so many amazing Christmas memories together.
“One tradition I like doing alongside her is making mulled wine,” says Halle. “She throws in lots of red wine, orange juice and spices, then serves it with French toast,” she says. As for desserts, Helen’s mum makes the most amazing Christmas pudding which she says is a must for breakfast with custard.
Helen recalls a Christmas when her son was a baby, her two daughters had chickenpox. They were five and eight, the perfect Christmas age, and they begged to be allowed to play in the snow. While Helen resisted, their grandmother snuck them out to play, creating a beautiful memory for the girls. “Granny snuck us out with oven mitts on our hands,” recalls Halle.
As much as she adores Christmas, she does say when her children are older, she is going to treat herself to a day of complete relaxation and laziness – she will eat whatever is easy, lie on the couch and watch TV. An aspiration I think will chime with many women. As lovely as the day is, it can be arduous.
Helen has a busy lead-up to Christmas with online sales, then she launches a sportswear collaboration with Dunnes Stores for the new year. Helen Steele will have a pre-Christmas drop with lots of goodies in it that have become Irish fan favourites like her bomber jacket, the printed fleece and a fleece bucket hat, all excellent stocking fillers. – Emer Roche
Friends Eric Roberts and Paddy Smyth
Christmas is about family and tradition for campaigner and influencer Paddy Smyth and his friend, TikTok star Eric Roberts. Roberts is one of the 456 contestants selected for Netflix’s new show The Squid Game: The Challenge.
“I love the lead-up to Christmas. I love that you get to meet people you don’t see throughout the rest of the year. Loads of nights out. There’s a buzz in the air,” says Smyth, a 35-year-old who has cerebral palsy and has worked hard to raise awareness around disability. He has also carved out a successful career on social media since winning Channel 4 reality series The Circle in 2019, prompting The Irish Times to note, at the time, that “viewers fall for Paddy Smyth, an Irish reality TV star with a difference”.
“Christmas is very family-orientated,” agrees 32-year-old Roberts, who lives in Letterkenny, Co Donegal with wife Niamh, with whom he tied the knot in August.
“The two weeks up to it, life doesn’t feel real. Me and my dad we have a tradition, with our brother-in-law. We go to the local pub for a pint at Christmas. It’s very traditional. We go to my grandmother’s every year. She passed away last year. We’re going to continue doing that: to go to the house together. For me, it’s a family thing.”
Smyth and Roberts see each other as chalk and cheese friends. Smyth is a gay disability rights advocate from Dublin, Robert’s a GAA-mad creator of popular sketches for TikTok from Donegal. But, having met at an influencer get-together several years ago, they’re inseparable – both virtually and in the real world.
“I’m able to have conversations with Paddy that I can’t have with my normal friends back home,” says Roberts. “I’m able to say, ‘I’ve got this job coming up, what do you think?’ Because he’s been in the industry so long. When we met, it was my very first event, a Virgin Media event. I was very anxious. Paddy took me under his wing. We got on very well.”
“Things kind of just snowballed from there,” nods Smyth. “We were texting loads. He’d come up to Dublin. It escalated then into this unique friendship.”
It’s a “yin and yang” dynamic that “really shouldn’t work”, says Roberts. “I’m a straight man, played football all my life, grew up in Donegal. Paddy is a gay disabled man from Dublin. He’s taken me to [popular gay bar] The George every time I’m in Dublin. It’s a friendship that doesn’t make any sense.”
“Eric always says that if I was straight I’d be him and if he was gay he’d be me,” says Smyth, smiling. “Do I have any interest in football? No I don’t.”
Eric’s nephew has cerebral palsy and for Paddy, this makes a huge difference in terms of their connection. He finds people are often either over the top around his disability – or ignore it completely. Roberts had a more healthy attitude.
“Because he has [an] understanding of disability, it gives me a kind of security – that he understands it, without me feeling awkward about it,” says Smyth. “People are either afraid to talk about it – or they go so overboard they won’t let me get off my feet without wanting to help me. They’re on top of me almost.”
Roberts smiles. “I put him through his paces more than most would. I don’t let him get away with anything. He never shies away from anything. I worked as a special needs assistant for eight years – I’ve worked with all walks of life, from autism to cerebral palsy. Any disability, I’ve worked with students in that realm. The beautiful thing about Paddy is he’s never mentioned his disability. I know he’s gone through hard times – but I personally don’t see it. He never mentions it. He’s well up for whatever we’re doing. We’ve gone to festivals over the summer where we’re walking through the muck. He never once complained. The reason he’s had so much success isn’t because he’s a disabled man – it’s because of his character.”
But Christmas is also a complicated affair. Smyth’s mother died when he was aged five. She passed away in January and for that reason, the new year is always poignant.
“My dad married very quickly afterwards. I had a step-mum from when I was six. Sometimes I feel guilty: I look on her as my mum sometimes because I grew up with her. It was a weird one. My mum died in January. Because I was so young I don’t really remember her. I feel guilty around her anniversary and stuff. In terms of Christmas, because I was so young it didn’t affect me. There is other guilt – but not that kind of guilt. There is survivor’s guilt. I sometimes feel I don’t have a connection to her – which makes me feel bad. I lost my dad there two, three years ago. That was harder. He was such a person in my life. Christmas is different to us now because we don’t know what do to – whether to keep old traditions or make new ones.”
His plans this year involve spending time with his siblings, who will be calling around to the family home for a big traditional knees-up.
“Our house, the family home in Raheny, is kind of the hub. Everyone comes around – all the relatives. Stephen’s Day is kind of our Christmas Day. Christmas Day is just us, the immediate family. On Stephen’s Day everyone comes over. I have three sisters and two brothers – and I’m in the middle. There are older sisters who are much older. They’ll come at different times.
Tradition is important to Roberts too. “We would always go to granny’s. We have dinner together every year. My wife’s family are from Letterkenny as well. There’s lots of togetherness. We’re laughing and joking. I love family at Christmas time.” – Ed Power
Husband and wife Rex Ryan and Miglé Ryan
Theatre owner, actor and director Rex Ryan knew he was going to marry Miglé Jasiene after their first date. The couple met in 2017 and spent their first Christmas together that year. Rex cooked lunch with all the trimmings and said it was the most calorie-laden Christmas lunch Miglé had ever had.
Christmas is a time to be sentimental and unoriginal according to Rex, so when Miglé mentions that Mariah Carey’s All I Want for Christmas is her favourite Christmas song, he agrees that the ubiquitous pop song with its sleigh bell introduction is a perfect choice.
There’s nothing the self-professed ‘nerdy’ Ryans enjoy more than a Harry Potter or Star Wars binge at Christmas. While Miglé isn’t a fan of musicals, Rex loves them; ‘I’m a softie, I love musicals.’ he says.
‘’It’s my favourite day of the year, absolutely. I love Christmas, I love the tree and time with my family.’’ says Miglé. ‘’I love the mince pies, rice pudding, any cake andBaileys coffee. Growing up Christmas for me in Lithuania was quieter. It was me, my sister, my dad and a big fire. Rex’s house was much crazier! From a food point of view, we would eat a similar type of lunch to here in Ireland – any kind of meat and potatoes. Our desserts would be a bit different, we wouldn’t have plum pudding, more likely a chocolate cake. In both countries, it’s fundamentally about family and lots of food’'
Rex is a fan of the big fry-up on Christmas morning. ‘It’s all about putting on weight, eating lots of sugar, kids everywhere screaming and shouting – I get to see my mother and my nana. Christmas is a time for us to slow down and take a break from the theatre,” he says.
Rex describes how Christmas makes him feel like a child. Having your own kids means you want to make it special for them and relive it through their eyes. They have one child, a daughter. He likens Christmas with children to directing a play in the theatre. You need to orchestrate their morning; you must plan everything out for them, and project manage throughout the day. “You want the whole show to go well for them” he says.
He also recalls how magical his late father, Gerry Ryan made Christmas morning. The five Ryan children would hear him creep downstairs in the early hours and in his memorable booming voice would announce that Santa “hasn’t come” only to watch them frantically rush downstairs and pounce on their gifts.
‘’I went through a sort of socialist moody phase where I wasn’t so keen on Christmas, but I’ve come out of that and really enjoy it for what it is. I don’t care if people are cynical about Christmas, I think if you make it your own it’s a beautiful occasion. To define Christmas for me, it’s families and stories.’’ he says.
Rex and Miglé run the Glass Mask Theatre Company from the Bestseller Café at No 41 Dawson Street in Dublin. He is soon to produce a fictional play about the rise of Vladimir Putin, so leaning into the light-hearted elements of the Christmas break sounds like it will be well earned! – Emer Roche
Siblings Amy, Mark and Paul Huberman
If there is one thing guaranteed to make Amy Huberman cry, it is the opening verse of O Holy Night. This most melancholy of seasonal songs has a special place in her heart. It was the soundtrack to the Christmases of her childhood and of memories that have become even more cherished since the death in May last year of her father, Harold.
“Our mum is a really good singer,” says Amy, a successful actor and best-selling author. “She traditionally always sang. She was in the church choir in Cabinteely. It would be O Holy Night. We were always sprinting to make midnight Mass. I’d be in heels going, ‘What time is it?’ Midnight Mass is never at midnight. It’s always at 10 or some time like that. I’ve never heard my mum sing that without tearing up. That was always a lovely tradition.”
Amy is participating in an Irish Times Christmas photo shoot with her older brother, Mark, and the baby of the family, Paul, while her mother, Sandra, watches encouragingly from the sidelines. It is a rare moment for the busy family – one they have come to appreciate following the death of Harold, who passed away at age 84 and following a Parkinson’s diagnosis nine years previously ... For the full interview with the Hubermans by Ed Power, click here
Behind the scenes – get the look
The people behind The Irish Times It’s Christmas fashion shoot show you how to recreate some of the looks
Make-up artist Leonard Daly explains how he achieved Amy’s cover look, which he says is the perfect way to shine this party season
I used NOTE Cosmetique, using BB cream as a foundation and concealer to perfect any imperfections. I used Baked Blush to add colour and enhance the shape of the face; the glowing consistency of these blushers is dreamy. I also applied it to the upper eyelid to add dimension and a touch of 80s glam to the eye make-up.
After that I used the smoky eye pencil in brown to line the whole eye and then blended it using a soft eye brush to really soften it out and avoid hard lines. Do one eye at a time; if you don’t blend this pencil immediately, it becomes difficult to blend. I used Love At First Sight Eye Shadow Palette.
Then I applied multiple layers of Full Bloom Lash Mascara to get the thickest lashes possible on Amy.
Finally, I used Mattever Lipstick in Heartbeat Red along with BB Lip Corrector to achieve a glossy red lip for Amy. Everything was then set with Note Translucent Setting Powder.’’
Stylist Megan Fox says that red is without a doubt the most coveted colour to wear for Christmas 2023
This fiery shade has dominated so many runways and collections for the AW23 season. We styled Katja Mia in a beautiful, fitted red gown, and she is radiant from the inside out. Ruby Ruby is an amazing little discovery, and this designer consignment store located on Dublin’s Francis Street has the most incredible pieces. We styled Amy in a vintage Chanel tuxedo jacket, and it was one of my favourite looks from the entire shoot. With both her brothers, Paul and Mark, styled in tuxedos, we loved the idea of Amy showing her powerful side in a strong tux with a slightly undone bow tie and heels for a feminine edge. With Helen and Halle Steele, of course, we had to showcase one of Helen’s incredible designs. I love her approach to colour and print, particularly in a world where there is so much minimalism right now. Helen is adding fun and light into the fashion realm. Halle’s look is so playful. A sheer sequin skirt is daring, but so fun to play around with this Christmas. You could style this with a chunky knit sweater and maybe a slip underneath for daytime with some knee-high boots. Don’t be afraid to wear your silly season sequins during the day.”
Emily Quinn is a photographer based in Dublin, and she has a knack for extracting someone’s inner personality.
“I have two children, a teen and a toddler, so life is busy. Since I returned to work after Covid, I realised I wanted to photograph more people, meet more people, have more conversations, and I can do that through my work. I got to work on a great project this year called Art of Strength, a cultural identity piece celebrating Irish women, fashion, history, and design.
“My dad sadly passed away this summer. He introduced me to photography initially, and I found that it was my dear family and wonderful friends that helped me to move forward and wrap their warmth and care around me during this tough time. With this Irish Times spread I wanted to celebrate that, the togetherness and human connection whether it be your friends, family, partner or work colleagues. And what better time to do so than at Christmas. And they got to showcase some gorgeous clothes into the bargain.”
Jodie Keegan and Sam Reddy from Dylan Bradshaw created looks that are simple and a couple that can be recreated at home
Sam: “For Amy’s party frock look I wanted to keep her hair as natural as possible, asking her what way she likes to style it for a Christmas party. With her long hair I wanted to pin some of it back to show off the gorgeous sleeve of the dress. For the tuxedo look, we wanted to steer away from something that Amy would usually go for. We made the hair extremely straight and pinned it back into a middle parting for a really sleek look, and both are these are very simple and easy to do for Christmas.
Jodie: For Helen I created some messy bends in the hair and a little loop at the back. I knew nothing too perfect is her vibe, she’s a cool mom with fab style so I wanted her to feel like her hair represented her. For Katja we went for a French twist vibe to keep the look classical. I also added a few scattered left out curls so that nothing was too severe. Her hair still told us she’s playful and strong.
Shoot co-ordinator and producer: Mimi Murray
Photographer: Emily Quinn
Stylists: Megan Fox for Hubermann shoot, Thalia Heffernan and Erica Cody shoot, Paddy Smyth and Eric Roberts shoot, Katja Mia and Daragh Curran shoot and Helen and Halle Steele shoot. Fiona Fagan for Rex and Miglé Ryan shoot and Killian Sundermann and Shane Daniel Byrne shoot.
Make-up: Leonard Daly
Hair: Jodie Keegan and Sam Reddy from Dylan Bradshaw
Video: Mark Henderson