While Grace Campbell knows that this Christmas will be different, she hopes to embrace the opportunities within rather than wishing for what she cannot have.
“Instead of constantly seeing the things we cannot do, see the opportunity in what we can,” she explains.
“Hopefully this is the only year that we’re looking at this type of Christmas and if it is then maybe this is a way to make our home as nourishing and nurturing and warm as possible so that we feel content with the Christmas that we have.”
Grace is the wedding stylist, content creator and art director behind Grace & Saviour and first appeared on the cover of ICL in 2014 for a festive photoshoot on her husband Paddy’s family farm in Co Tyrone. Today, the couple live in Lisburn, Co Antrim with their children Martha (five) and Gabriel (two).
Usually, the run-up to Christmas would be extremely busy, but with weddings and events on pause due to the pandemic, Grace is hoping to recreate some of the Christmas magic she weaves for her clients closer to home.
“I do all these beautiful shoots… and then I come home and there’s no evidence of that in my house!” laughs Grace, who hopes to use the extra time to make wreathes, garlands and Christmas crafts with the children.
A real tree, however, is a fixture in their house every year, lovingly laden with ornaments that have a special meaning.
Family museum of memories
“Our tree is like a little family museum of memories,” says Grace. “I have a beautiful ceramic heart that I got in America when Paddy proposed, I have decorations that I bought waiting for the babies to come, and we were in Paris in January and we stopped into this little shop selling beautiful little chime bells and I’m so excited to put them on the tree this year.”
Social distancing means finding new ways to connect; for instance, at the time of interview, Grace was hoping to bake a Christmas cake with her mother via Zoom. But one tradition that will thankfully remain untouched is sending Christmas cards.
“It’s a way of letting people know that they really matter as part of your world,” she says, “you want that connection with them at Christmas.”
Instead of racing around doing last-minute shopping, Grace is also planning to cut back on a lot of the excess of the season and instead spend time with the children in nature; for instance, going for crisp winter walks in Tollymore Forest.
“I don’t fancy taking the kids to see Santa with a mask on,” she says. “I’m going to do the things that still feel very nice and normal.”
Usually, the couple go to either of their families for Christmas dinner, so this will be their first time to cook at home. “We’re two proper grown-ups now!” she laughs.
But thankfully, there are lots of traditions that even COVID-19 can’t mess with; whether it’s going through The Radio Times with a highlighter to pick out festive films to watch as a family, opening presents from Santa while a Willie Nelson Christmas vinyl album plays in the background or enjoying a brunch of croissants, bacon and scrambled eggs (and maybe a glass of Buck’s Fizz for the grown-ups) on Christmas morning.
“I think it’s going to be a slower, more family, more home-based Christmas,” concludes Grace. “This year is just about paring back the noise and really enjoying the things that look after us as a family.”
Life – and Christmas – has certainly changed since event organiser Maria Reidy appeared on a festive cover of Irish Country Living in 2015.
In 2019, she married her husband Dylan and moved to Galway, and this summer, the couple welcomed their daughter, Nora.
“She’ll be just starting solids, so her first piece of real food might be a Brussels sprout!” laughs Maria.
Raised on a farm in Co Clare, Maria set up her business in 2015 to cater for corporate clients, leading brands, weddings and private parties.
Unsurprisingly, COVID-19 has “decimated” the market, but earlier this year, Maria launched Signature Rentals: a one-stop shop where customers can rent or buy from a carefully curated collection ranging from table décor to Danish-style tapered candles.
This includes Scandi-inspired Christmas ornaments, which are very much in keeping with how Maria chooses to decorate her home.
“I love that Nordic sensibility, quite dark colours in the decorations, lots of paper and then just lights,” she says. “I keep it very simple.”
She jokes that she and Dylan “nearly broke up” when it came to their tree last year.
“Dylan was always into artificial trees and I was like, ‘No way!’” she laughs, adding that she loves to make her own wreaths using foraged materials from the hedgerows, and last year, even did a mini DIY workshop with her in-laws on Christmas Eve.
She and Dylan are both foodies, but keep Christmas dinner traditional and try to support Irish producers as much as possible, with salmon from The Burren Smokehouse, a turkey from Athenry-based The Friendly Farmer, cheese from Sheridan’s, chocolate from Wexford’s Bean and Goose and a plum pudding from Clare Nash (Nash 19) all on their shopping list.
After starting their own vegetable patch during lockdown, however, the couple will also be adding their own pickled red cabbage and beetroot chutney to this year’s menu, which Maria will also be gifting to family and friends, wrapped up in simple brown paper packages with a band of newspaper (the Farmers Journal is often recycled in this way) and a velvet ribbon.
Maria also loves to send Christmas cards – she easily writes 100 every year – and believes that it will be more important than ever this year. But ultimately, Christmas 2020 will be all about the simple pleasures.
“I can’t wait for Nora to see the lights on the tree,” she says, “just to see it through her eyes.”
Living on a dairy farm means that Christmas is an extra special time of year for Katie Gleeson.
“During winter we would dry off the cows for a period of six weeks and we get to spend a bit more time together as a family,” says the digital creator who runs the popular @katieinthecountry Instagram account.
“Nature goes into hibernation; and the farm also goes into a slight hibernation!”
Katie lives in Clonmore, Co Tipperary, with her husband Phil and their three children Dan (six), Faye (five) and Jack (three). Unsurprisingly, the excitement starts when “the Smyth’s catalogue comes in the door”, but this year, Katie is anticipating a “more stripped back Christmas” due to COVID-19.
“There’s not going to be big Christmas parties and no one is going to be doing the 12 pubs,” she says. “I think people in general will just go back to more simple, homely comforts.”
For Katie, that starts with buying a “real” tree from Peter’s Fruit and Veg shop in Templemore, which brings her back to her own childhood when her father used to sell Christmas trees in Dublin.
Decoration-wise, she sticks to the classic colour theme of red, green and gold, with heirloom ornaments ranging from trinkets she and Phil picked up on their travels in Asia in their twenties, to handmade creations from when the children came along.
“Little handprints or things they would have made in playschool,” she explains. “They are very special to look at, especially now as they are getting older.”
She also likes to forage on the farm for holly to dress the mantelpiece; though takes care to leave the berries for the birds with a clever hack.
“I have little sprigs of fake berries!” she laughs, “so I normally have the real holly and the fake berries, some twinkly lights and a couple of candles and that’s that: keep it simple, keep it natural.”
A Scandi-style crib from Flying Tiger is also key. Although…
“The kids like to play with it, so we could find the baby Jesus anywhere around the house and then Virgin Mary could be out on the road!” she sighs.
Christmas dinner-wise, she preps as much as possible in advance, with spiced carrot and butternut squash soup for starter, traditional turkey (always with sausage meat stuffing), trifle and a Tipperary-inspired cheese board.
In her job, Katie loves to create “whimsical” content for social media that reflects the magic of Christmas; but ultimately, it’s all about making memories with the children.
“They’re a great age this year now for Christmas,” she says, “I’m really looking forward to it.”