Tuesday 25 October 2016

Not your average Christmas Day - meet the non-conformists

Published 25/12/2015 | 00:30

Johnny Carroll: After his Christmas day swim he will have a mince pie and maybe a shot of whiskey.
Johnny Carroll: After his Christmas day swim he will have a mince pie and maybe a shot of whiskey.
Francophile: Grainne Kelliher - snails are on the Christmas Day menu.
Yogi Mark Kelly is looking forward to leaving the cold weather behind.
Surfers Jane and Myles Lamberth will be working up an appetite by surfing. Photo: James Connolly.
Colette Dooley will be volunteering at the Knights of Columbanus Christmas Day dinner.

The festivities are all about traditions - but for some, that means making their own. We meet the non-conformists passing over typical seasonal customs, or opting out of Christmas altogether.

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'Open-water swimming is the best therapy'

THE OPEN-SEA SWIMMER: JOHNNY CARROLL is a South African fitness trainer and owner of The Fitness Guy. He is married to Xpose producer Debbie O'Donnell and they have two children: Marcus (8) and Sam (2).

"I lived in Dublin for about a year before I swam in the sea. It was September 2009 and I remember being in Seapoint and seeing these people in their 70s swimming. So I decided to join them and I've been doing so ever since.

"Open-water swimming is now my preferred sport. It's the best therapy ever - the most invigorating thing you can do.

"This will be my seventh year doing the Forty Foot Christmas Day swim. The day itself is quite mad. People who don't normally swim there come along and, if there is a swell at the Forty Foot, people swim at Sandycove too.

"It's like any sport: if you do it fairly regularly, it's not a big shock to the system. However, people with medical conditions should get medical clearance before they jump in.

"My two friends and I have this group called the Sunrise Swimming Club, so the three of us will meet and jump in. Debbie sometimes comes too and takes photos.

"Afterwards we'll have a mince pie and maybe a shot of whiskey.

"I'm from Cape Town where it's usually 30ºC on Christmas Day. People sit outside and eat and then go to the beach in the afternoon. I prefer Christmas over here, though. I know it sounds like a cliché but the whole change of the seasons is much better."

'We're working up an appetite for dinner by surfing'

THE SURFERS: JANE & MYLES LAMBERTH own Shells Café in Strandhill, Sligo. The dedicated surfers will be hoping to catch a few waves on Christmas morning.

"We've always done something active on Christmas Day. We used to run chalets during ski season so we'd make sure to get a few runs in before preparing lunch," says Jane.

"The whole idea is to work up an appetite for your dinner and get out of the house on Christmas morning. It's so easy to barely get dressed on Christmas morning and at the end of the day you just feel like a total slob.

"Surfing is the essence of most people's lives in Strandhill and there is a culture of everyone meeting for a surf at noon on Christmas Day. There's serious kudos if you do it in your swimsuit or your boardies.

"We usually go out the night before for early drinks and then we're home by 8pm. The surf the next day completely clears the head and washes away the hangover because it's such a shock to the system.

"Around eight to 20 people turn up in total. Our baby boy Arlo (6 months) will be watching with grandma. She'll put a little Santa hat on him and show him what his future holds!

"Last year we lit the fire pit in the garden before we left. When we came back we put some nuts on it and enjoyed them with a hot whiskey before getting on with cooking the Christmas dinner."

'Christmas has become a rat race'

THE VOLUNTEER: COLETTE DOOLEY is a mature student from Portlaoise. This will be her third year volunteering at the Knights of St Columbanus Christmas Day Dinner Dublin in the RDS.

"I remember driving home to Portlaoise from college in Letterkenny at Christmas in 2012. I was listening to the Colm Hayes Show and he was talking about giving out necessities to the homeless people in Dublin the night before. I was in tears listening to it and I just thought, 'I have to do something'.

"I applied as a volunteer at the Knights of St Columbanus Christmas Day Dinner the following year. On Christmas morning, I said to my parents and my siblings 'I might see you later and I might not. Don't hold any dinner for me'. They were kind of shocked.

"My first year was daunting because you're walking into this room and you don't know anyone. Even so, I knew walking out the door that afternoon that I'd be back the following year.

"You meet all walks. I remember a young Eastern European family with a little girl of five or six. I asked her what Santy brought her and she answered 'a box of chocolates'.

"We take everything for granted. Christmas is just a pure rat race now and Christmas stock is in stores by Halloween, if not before Halloween. If I had a chance I would go foreign and volunteer for a few weeks.

"Some people have been volunteering at the Christmas Dinner for 10 years. This will be my third year. The first year I volunteered there was about 250-300 attendees. This year, they're expecting 500, if not more.

"The drive home takes an hour or so, but last year I drove straight from Ballsbridge to Limerick. My family was in my brother's house and they weren't expecting me.

"They got a nice surprise!"

'We'll eat snails, foie gras and shellfish'

THE FRANCOPHILE: GRAINNE KELLIHER from Dingle is the CEO of Airfield in Dundrum, Dublin. She is married to Frenchman Olivier Gaillot and they have a 12-year-old boy, Ronan.

"Christmas is a very busy time at Airfield but you just get into the spirit of it. I'm not a big fan of the commercial frenzy that sometimes goes on in town over Christmas, though.

"At Christmas time, we either do Dingle, where I'm from, or Burgundy, where Olivier is from. If we're in Dingle, we really look forward to Wren Day on December 26. You get dressed up. You go to people's houses. You play music. You sing. It's a fabulous day.

"This year we're in Burgundy. The French tend to have their main meal on the evening of the 24th. You would expect to have snails, foie gras and a mix of shellfish. The dessert would tend to be Buche de Noel, which is a creamy Christmas log.

"They start off with a flute of champagne and then they very carefully match the wines to the courses. All the lovely dusty bottles of wine come out of the cellar especially for Christmas.

"The next day we have another big meal and we're generally at the table for four or five hours. It's all about downtime, countryside and food when we're in Burgundy."

'It'll be nice to leave the cold weather behind'

THE YOGI: MARK KENNEDY is the head of day services for the voluntary organisation Merchants Quay Ireland. He'll be spending Christmas day at a yoga retreat in Essaouira in Morocco.

"Last year was the first time I went away for Christmas. I visited an all-male meditation retreat in the Scottish Highlands and there were about 30 of us, ranging in age from 20-70.

"Five days were in silence. I've never been silent for that long and I found it profoundly relaxing. It felt like I was experiencing life in a different way when I came back - I was noticing the colours of the trees and things like that.

"I was in the middle of a very stressful week when I booked this yoga retreat about seven weeks ago. I'm doing a psychology course alongside my work and I said to myself 'I need this on the horizon'. Also, my parents are going to Australia - I have two sisters living there - and I just wasn't able to take that kind of time off.

"Besides, Christmas in Dublin can be quite formulaic and it can be a bit stressful trying to catch up with everybody.

"I've been doing retreats with Yoga Traveller for close on 10 years now and I always come back feeling brand new. I love the conversations and the sense of community - plus you're getting to meet people from all over the world.

"This will be my third time in Morocco with them. Christmas Day probably won't be any different to other days. They'll be morning and evening yoga session, meals and sunshine! It'll be nice to leave the cold weather behind."

Irish Independent

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