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How hotels prepare for Christmas: it’s all about the ‘wow’

The logistics of getting some of Ireland’s top hotels get ready for the Christmas season are not for the faint-hearted.

They make 100s of lists and check them twice before a magical Christmas wonderland is unveiled for their guests.

As the country lights up with festive colours for Christmas, hotels are the stars of the season, where everything is done on a grand scale. It is all about that initial “wow!” and maintaining that feeling for guests as they move from one magical room to the next.

Months of planning and teams of specialists are what make it all happen. At Park Hotel Kenmare, a Christmas tree goes up in mid-November, but the real decorating starts on December 13th when the hotel closes for 10 days, re-opening on December 23rd. Over 40 Christmas trees are decorated, large ones for the public areas, adorned by Sinead Lough’s ceramic white doves, and smaller ones for most of the bedrooms. The smaller trees are replanted in the grounds in January.

Head gardener Shane Walsh and his team are in charge of selecting the best berried holly and ivy. Wreaths are hand-made and carefully assembled, and adorned with slices of dried orange that have been prepared in the kitchen and studded with festive-smelling cloves. Seasonal plants are placed in all the outdoor planters and mini wreaths are assembled for guests’ bedroom doors.

Christmas in Park Hotel is as traditional as it gets, with turkey or goose and all the trimmings. Puddings and cakes are made in late October and there are copious supplies of mulled wine and mince pies. It’s very much a house party atmosphere, with traditional board games played in the drawing room and classic Christmas films shown in the cinema.

At The Shelbourne in Dublin, Christmas officially begins when they turn on their Christmas lights at the end of November. The event has become a cherished tradition for many families who come each year to hear the choir singing carols in the lobby and watch a special guest do the honours of switching on the lights – in the past these have included Ryan Tubridy and Joe Schmidt.

Christmas preparations at The Shelbourne begin months before the festive season kicks off. There are 34 Christmas trees in total, with outdoor trees on the terrace of the George Moore Suite and on the main hotel terrace. A decorating team is tasked with ensuring that every room is decorated and festive. The grand staircase is suitably dramatic, with a 64-metre garland strung with fairy lights.

It is a traditional Christmas, but always with a few new dishes from executive chef Garry Huges. Trialling of this starts in late August before the final menus are decided. Roast loin of Wicklow venison has been added to the menu in the Saddle Room. A festive afternoon tea menu is created each year by the executive pastry chef, Caoimhe Hanafin, and there are always plenty of mince pies and mulled wine.

At the K Club in Kildare, planning technically starts in January, and the first thing they do at the beginning of each year is review the previous Christmas and discuss changes for the year ahead. In August the food and beverage team start devising the Christmas Day menu and festive afternoon tea menu.

Decorating is on a large scale here with 160 Christmas trees, including one in every bedroom. Over 80,000 twinkling lights are strung, and 70 handmade wreathes are hung in the hotel and the club house. There is much festive cheer, with a mulled wine and mince pies reception on Christmas Eve. Over the week from Christmas Eve to New Year’s Day, 600 mince pies are eaten and over 300 celebratory bottles of Champagne are poured.

At Carton House in Kildare, Christmas decorations go up on November 14th, including a gingerbread display in the lobby created by their head pastry chef, Stephane Prost; but the planning starts way before that. Like the K Cub, they start the year with a review of the previous festive season, booking the decorators, choir and other suppliers nearly a year in advance, and continue with the main planning in July. Final decisions are made after a walk around in September and October with the decorators, and a series of bi-weekly meetings ensure that everything is kept on track.

Like many of the hotels, menu planning starts in August for the Christmas season menus and festive afternoon tea; and September is the month for making the Carton House chutneys, puddings, and cranberry sauce for their gift range. There are big plans this year for an outdoor Christmas market with cover and seating, where guests can enjoy hot chocolate and festive treats like mince pies. And if you fancy a taste of Carton House at home this Christmas, their chutneys, puddings and sauces will be on sale too.

Corinna Hardgrave

Corinna Hardgrave

Corinna Hardgrave, a contributor to The Irish Times, writes a weekly restaurant column