The 15 Little Jobs We Love At Christmas - The Gloss Magazine

The 15 Little Jobs We Love At Christmas

It’s a fact, no matter how we shake it up from year to year, it’s the traditional tasks that make us happy at Christmas. We asked nine pros about their specially assigned roles …

Featured Image; Featured in The Gloss Magazine. Photographed by Veronika Faustmann. Wreath by The Foliage Forest;


“Get into the mood” says Coibhe Butler. Some think it’s a chore but I like sending Christmas cards. A log fire is the best backdrop to settling in at my desk to send wishes to friends and family. I’m always sad to hear someone has stopped sending cards: it’s often the only time of year we write to friends and family and there is nothing like getting those first few cards in the post. Before I start, I can’t help rearranging a few pictures in the study to have some Christmas-inspired art around my desk. This year it’s an illustration of “King Clovis’ Breakfast” by W Heath Robinson – an old legend thought to have given rise to the tradition of hanging out stockings for Christmas.

I sift through last year’s bundle of cards to make sure I haven’t forgotten anyone. I find a few well-chosen kind words go a long way without feeling the need to send a “newsletter”. When all the cards are posted, to offset my paper use, I arrange to have a native Irish tree planted in Co Clare via the Home Tree charity. Coibhe Butler is founder of The Plunkett Press;


“The link between Christmas and fire is as old as Christmas itself and flames make everything more fun”, writes Annie Gray in her brilliant book At Christmas We Feast. “One of the most famous literary puddings, that of Mrs Crachit in Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, was borne to the table ‘blazing in half a quartern of ignited brandy’.” We are setting puddings from Avoca, The Butlers Pantry and The Lismore Food Company alight this year.


“Organise your space” says Karen Morten. As chief wreath-maker for our Christmas Tree Farm, my home and barn are overflowing with baskets brimming with fir and pine branches, pine cones, foliage and winter berries for busy wreath-making season. I incorporate as many natural elements as possible and keep an eye on trends, every year adding a little something to our collection – a new ribbon or a slightly different style. I work best in an organised space with everything I need at my fingertips, sharp snips and pruners to hand. I sort my wreath-making supplies into containers. I dehydrate orange slices by oven-drying, which fills the house with a divine citrus aroma, and rehydrate branches by snipping the ends and immersing them in water overnight. I prepare bundles of greenery with an eye to a good variety of scent, colour, and texture. Once the bundles are woven together to create the wreath, I add decorative elements.

This season I am using winter berries, cinnamon and oranges, thistle, and eucalyptus. The final step is to add the festive bow. The hardest job is choosing which gorgeous wreath to keep for myself. Karen Morton is co-owner of Killakee Christmas Tree Farm;


“I nip to IKEA…” says Mickael Viljanen. There are six of us in our house but for Christmas, we could be up to 20. Of course I am in charge of the food. I don’t like turkey and my kids don’t either, so we never have it. We have ham and roast beef, or maybe Beef Wellington, instead. Here’s a very good quick sauce for ham – make a roux with butter and flour, add a little of the ham’s cooking liquor, a little Dijon mustard. Let it thicken up and then add the pickling juice from a jar of gherkins and a little apple sauce. Add salt and pepper and Bob’s your uncle.

I was born in Sweden and grew up in Finland so yes, I guess I do certain Nordic touches. I’ll tell you this: before Christmas I nip out to IKEA to buy packets and packets of croustade cups, and then I fill them with cured herring, smoked salmon, beef tartare. We have a glass of good champagne and then with dinner we have a white Burgundy and then a red Burgundy. When there are lots of people, you need volume, so we buy nice entry-level Burgundy at Aldi or Lidl. At Christmas we put away the everyday glasses and bring out our nice wine glasses, the porcelain and the tablecloths.

I cook sprouts with chestnuts and bacon, we have mashed and roast potatoes and we always have beetroot and blue cheese, my dad’s specialty – vacuum-packed beets sliced and layered with blue cheese, a little added cream, baked in the oven. We might have pavlova with mango and passionfruit but cheese is more important – a lot of cheese from Sheridans. I buy big tins of gingerbread biscuits at IKEA too, which are very good with blue cheese. Mickael Viljanen is chef patron at two Michelin star restaurant Chapter One, and Gaggenau ambassador.


We say, whole-bird dominance is over: THE GLOSS Team is bingeing on the formerly derided turkey crown. Order a delicious Leonards one at Avoca.


Everything will be gold, mostly old, on our tables this year. Beg, steal, borrow, or raid a vintage shop, to create a romantic, faux-grand table. You don’t even need to polish: being dull at dinner is best.


“I still do it!” says Simone Kirby. Every Christmas since I was little, it has been my job to set up the crib. I think it’s because I would spend hours playing with the little figurines, which kept me out from under my mam’s feet. But it’s continued to this day. So the crib stays in the box until I arrive home. In my own house, I am definitely in charge of the decorating. Christmas doesn’t really begin until the tree is up, so I put on some Christmas music, have a mulled wine, and make it fun. We started making our own decorations a few years ago, so it’s nice to see them hanging around the place every year. And I’m also the gift-wrapper. I had a gift wrapping job at The Design Centre when I was a student. I could wrap presents all day, every day, and never tire of it. Simone Kirby returns as Mary Malone in award-winning TV series His Dark Materials on HBO and BBC this month.


“Prickly bits, looking good” says Amelia Raben. Holly is actually very difficult to arrange. Because of its stiff, often prickly leaves, it has a tendency to lean so you see the light green underside of the leaf as opposed to the glossy topside. I think this is why traditionally holly was placed over pictures because the frames kept it in place. Naturally, I am the foliage-arranger in our house at Christmas. My favourite way to use holly at Christmas is to incorporate it into a front door wreath. I tie it to a willow base with other foliage. If the holly doesn’t have any berries on it, I use rose hips instead and to give a wilder look, I add red dogwood branches which pick up the red of the berries. I also stick pieces of holly in between the logs in an open-sided log basket and fill small jam jars or glass yoghurt pots with moss. I stick short pieces of holly into the moss, tie a bow on the jam jar with red twine or ribbon and use to decorate a window sill, mantelpiece or table. The best way to display a bunch of holly is in a thin-necked jug or vase to keep the holly from splaying. Amelia Raben is founder of Amelia’s Garden Flowers;


“A relaxed mindset can be the best approach” says Molly Keane. When it comes to serving wine to your guests at home, a relaxed, hands-off mindset can be the best approach. By simply placing a selection of wine on the dinner table or designated area, you allow your guests to help themselves and avoid any issues – like feeling slightly awkward when their glass is empty before anyone else’s.

To use a carafe or to decant? There’s a difference. When using a carafe, the action is to pour wine freely into another vessel to aerate it. This allows lots of oxygen into the wine which helps reveal aroma and flavour. Decanting is the action of slowly pouring wine at an angle into another vessel to separate the sediment that settles at the bottom of the bottle. Decanting wine also allows the flavours and aromas to expand and breathe. I would always say decanting should be used for older wines and red wines with sediment. Sediment isn’t bad for you, but the taste is unpleasant!

There are many fancy decanters on the market, different shapes designed for different wines. For example, Pinot Noir would be best suited to a medium-size decanter whereas full-bodied reds like Cabernet Sauvignon would benefit from a wider-based decanter. In my opinion, you should get a decanter you love. Wine is meant to be fun and enjoyable, so look for one that’s easy to fill, pour, and clean. You’d be surprised at how many beautiful decanters are a little tricky to use! Decanting a wine might sound daunting to some but it is easy, it just requires a little patience. If decanting isn’t something you are comfortable with, pull the corks of these big, bold young red wines a couple of hours before your guests arrive; they will benefit from some air. Molly Keane is front of house manager at Lignum, Galway.


Take a leaf out of food writer Nigel Slater’s book and wrap everything in fabric, as the Japanese do.


“I use an old brass bell,” says Ally Bunbury. The yellow dining room at my family home in Co Monaghan has all the ingredients for a good party on New Year’s Eve. It’s the same dining table my Mum sat at during her childhood – so it conjures up lots of memories. There are shutters on the windows to stave off draughts and even better, a fireplace to keep us warm as we await the approach of midnight.

To ensure we are still upright (rather than under the table) by the time midnight chimes, I take on the role of Quiz Master with delight. Fortunately for my family, I am far from an intellectual, and like my novels, I keep the questions light and airy. My main tip is to ask questions with confidence, repetition is key and set a good pace to keep guests on their toes. I love to scatter in occasional Kardashian-esque questions or tap back into the greatest hits of the 1980s. Irish landscape topics always work well, though to our shame, guests from overseas are usually much better than we are – last year it took a guest from Nepal to tell us in which county the Cliffs of Moher can be found! I like to wear my trusty Quiz Master hat and use an old brass bell to bring the room to attention. The role of Quiz Master is a good place to be, as for a change, I have the answers! Ally Bunbury’s third novel, the very seasonal All Wrapped Up, is out now.


Tablescaper Maria Reidy’s approach to decorating this year is simple, modern, classic, with a nod to Nordic in handmade wreaths, glass baubles, Irish linen tablecloths and lots and lots of candles. Plummy tones, with dull gold, cool grey and black, are a sophisticated alternative to red and green.


Instead of a towering tree in the corner of the room, place a small tree in a pot on a table or bench. You’ll only need one box of decorations!


“Nothing beats a hot toddy” says Alex Conynham. The days just before Christmas are always mad busy at Slane Castle, as the last of our customers at Rock Farm collect their organic turkeys and hams at our Christmas market and their Slane Irish Whiskey gift boxes from the distillery. Once all that’s done, we’re lucky to have the Castle to ourselves. We fill it with family and the kids have the whole run of the place for a change. Shared food and drinks prep in the kitchen and the accompanying banter is one of my favourite things about Christmas. Our dinner features our own produce from the farm and there’s something really rewarding about sharing that with family, knowing the hard work that has gone into it producing it. One steadfast tradition every year – long walks along the Boyne, come rain or shine. And nothing beats a hot toddy at the fire at the end of that. Alex is co-founder of Slane Irish Whiskey.



60ml water / 3 cloves / cinnamon stick / 1cm piece ginger, peeled and sliced / 1 strip lemon peel / 60ml Slane Irish Whiskey / 2 tsp honey / 1-2 tsp lemon juice / A little fresh nutmeg, grated.

1. Put the water in a small pan along with the spices and peel over a low heat. Bring to a gentle simmer. Meanwhile, rinse a heatproof glass with hot water to warm the glass.

2. Pour your measure of Slane Irish Whiskey into the warmed glass, then pour over the hot water and spices. Stir in the honey and lemon juice and taste for sweetness. Top with a little fresh nutmeg.

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