Aras becomes a winter wonderland as Higgins family clocks up 32,000 visitors
CHILDREN took over the state rooms at Aras An Uachtarain as President Michael D Higgins and First Lady Sabina welcomed 100 families into their home to celebrate Christmas.
Santa was also in residence in the official drawing room yesterday -- the same room in which Queen Elizabeth was greeted during her Irish visit -- handing out gifts to children of all ages.
The long table -- normally used by the Council of State to discuss very serious matters -- was dressed with a white tablecloth and crammed with finger foods, fizzy lemonade and all manner of cakes suited to tiny fingers.
Families were greeted in the front hall which was transformed into a winter wonderland with twinkling lights, polar bears, penguins, reindeer and even snowy teddy bears.
From there they were taken first to the President's study, where they were met individually by Mr and Mrs Higgins before moving on to meet Santa Claus and receive their goodie bags.
The formerly conjoined Benhaffaf twins, Hassan and Hussein, were among the guests, and the boys, dressed in Santa jumpers, made an extra special effort to walk on their new limbs to shake hands with Mr and Mrs Higgins.
Mr Higgins opened the doors of the Aras to families who had applied to be present for the official switching on of the Christmas lights last Sunday but could not be accommodated because of the large numbers.
"It is such a big occasion for all, we wanted to be able to welcome as many as possible," he told the Irish Independent.
"Christmas is a time of celebration and when we celebrate together we are at our best," he added.
Mr Higgins said that he and his wife have greeted more than 32,000 visitors to the Aras since the couple made it their home.
"We get requests for the Christmas reception from the previous New Year's Day," he added.
In a more formal address to all of the families, Mr Higgins said he hoped they'd had a wonderful time at the Aras and that the afternoon would create yet another special family memory to share in the years to come.