I grew up in Dublin, Ireland and come from a big family, and although it was only myself and my brother, there are five siblings on my dad's side and six on my mom's, which meant the house was always filled with aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents around Christmas time.
For an Irish family Christmas, the traditional dinner is key and getting it right is a real art. Roast turkey and stuffing, clove-studded baked ham, crispy goose fat potatoes, steamed Brussels sprouts, buttery sweet carrots, crispy parsnips, cranberry sauce, bread sauce, gravy, phew, there's a lot to think of!
One of the greatest pieces of advice I learnt from my mother around this time of year, was to delegate! That was something she did and still does with great ease and is why I have such lovely memories of a bustling kitchen on Christmas Eve, where teams of our relations would be peeling spuds and Brussels sprouts and chopping onions for stuffing, with the windows all steamed up and Christmas music blaring from the radio.
When all the chaos had passed and everyone had gone their merry way home, Christmas presents were wrapped and put under the tree and we were threatened at pain of death not to peek until the following morning!
In Ireland we celebrate on the 25th and in my family growing up, Christmas morning was what we all really waited for, when my brother and I would drag my parents out of bed, while it was still dark, to sneak downstairs and see what presents had been left for us!
After the presents were unwrapped, my mom would get going on, a full Irish breakfast, fried bacon, sausages, eggs, black and white pudding, mushrooms and tomatoes, while we cleared the wrapping paper and played with whatever gadget we had received. Then we would all sit down and enjoy breakfast together, just the four of us, our last chance of the day before the relations arrived and Christmas dinner was devoured! (Watch a video of Santa Claus visiting Howth village.)
Grown-up Christmas in Dublin is a little different in my house now because my parter, Sofie, is Swedish. We spend every second year in Gothenburg, Sweden, with her family. Christmas in Sweden is quite different as it is celebrated on the 24th in the evening and Santa Claus actually visits the house and gives out the presents.
Although every year our Christmas is slightly different we have created our own traditions in Ireland and one of those centers around choosing a tree. Christmas trees are sold in the centre of the village where we live in and every year, we walk down the village to choose the perfect tree and then carry it back up to our house to be decorated. We've learned for the sake of our arms, that size doesn't matter!
When we have the tree decorated we make crisp gingerbread cookies, fill a flask with hot chocolate and then head out for a long walk with our dog Max on the cliffs overlooking Dublin bay, close to our house, for the most spectacular views.
We do our Christmas shopping in Dublin city and top of our list is edible gifts; I love making mini gift packs of wonderful Irish ingredients like Highback Orchard Syrup, Llewellyns Balsamic Cider Vinegar, Irish brown bread crackers and artisan cheese from Sheridan's Cheesemongers, Irish Atlantic Sea Salt and smoked salmon from the Burren Smokehouse. An Irish coffee in Bewley's on Grafton Street and the day is complete!
Another Irish tradition which always causes a chorus of audible groans in our house is the Christmas Day swim, forced on us by my dad. On Christmas morning just after breakfast, families gather on Balscadden beach, close to the village, light a fire and then when enough courage is built up (with a little help!), you strip down and run into the freezing cold water. The theory is it builds up resistance to everything and anything Christmas day can throw at you! You know what, I think it works!
An Irish Christmas for me is about two things, traditional Christmas food, and getting to share it and spend time with friends and family.
Wherever you are this year, Nollaig Shona Duit, wishing you and yours a very merry Christmas!
Recipes from Donal Skehan
(Image credits: Donal Skehan)