The rules of engagement
With Christmas Eve declared the most popular 'proposal day', Deirdre Reynolds gets some expert tips on making the moment perfect for both of you
Move over, Cupid - now it's Santa who's spreading the love. According to figures from Facebook, Christmas Eve is the biggest day of the year for popping the question, out-blinging even St Valentine's Day for betrothals.
From twinkling lights to dangling mistletoe, not to mention all that mulled wine, wedding expert Sinead Nic Gabhann reckons it's no surprise that December 24 has overtaken February 14 as the most romantic date in the calendar, and is already bracing for the snowstorm of Facebook engagement announcements later this month.
"We have been working 14 hours a day, seven days a week, since May. And we will be working Christmas Eve and Christmas Day too," says Sinead, who runs 'Help I'm Getting Married Ireland', a mega-popular social networking group for brides and grooms-to-be.
"A lot of people meet at Christmas time, so it can be nice for them to get engaged at Christmas time too.
"Even though it can be a very busy time of year, people just have more time to think," she adds. "They're kind of winding down from work and thinking more about their home life.
"If someone is planning to propose anyway, they might decide to save it for Christmas morning - it's the ultimate present, really!"
After dropping her 16-month-old son back to Temple Street Children's Hospital last Christmas Day, getting married was the last thing on Dubliner Karen Sherry's mind - until her partner Paul got down on one knee in a surprise proposal.
"Our little guy, Sonny, who has a tracheostomy, was in Temple Street at the time," tells the stay-at-home mum. "On Christmas Day, we were allowed to bring him home for a few hours for the first time.
"I was an emotional wreck dropping him back at six o'clock. On the way home, Paul said he wanted to go up to Howth for a drive. We were walking up the pier and it was freezing.
"Halfway up I was like, 'This is ridiculous - I'm going back to the car!' He had to get down on one knee and ask me then.
"I wasn't expecting it at all," continues Karen, "but I wouldn't have wanted any other proposal.
"Paul even had a gorgeous vintage ring from the 70s. It really was a brilliant end to a day that could have been a lot different."
While most Irish couples now shop for a rock together, according to one of the country's top jewellers, Christmas also sees a rise in guys emulating the man in the red suit.
"Over the last five years, it's swung more towards people coming in together, but at Christmas time I think the old romantics come out," reveals Paul Brereton of Brereton Jewellers on Dublin's Grafton Street.
"We definitely get a higher number of men coming in looking to surprise their girlfriend on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day.
"In regards to style, I always say simple is best if you're going to surprise somebody. It's better to go for something classic, like a single stone or three-stone diamond ring, that you know she's going to really like.
"With sizing, I always say to err on the side of caution and go for something a little bit bigger so it will definitely go on the finger when they get down on bended knee.
"Although there is an average (spend) of about €4,500, we always say buy what you can afford," he adds. "Most women, if they're in love with you, are going to be happy with whatever you propose with."
When it comes to festive proposals, romantic Marshall Kingston from Dublin certainly went jingle all the way.
The marketing executive spent almost a year planning a Christmas treasure hunt around the capital for his girlfriend, Jilly, who is now, unsurprisingly, his wife.
"Jilly and I were together about seven years when we got engaged," he recalls of popping the question with panache five years ago this Christmas.
"I just thought it would be a good opportunity to revisit a lot of the spots we had visited together over the years in a kind of homage to the relationship.
"The first clue was printed on the inside of a packet of Rolos and led to Trinity College. They led all around city, with the second last one leading to my car.
"On the seat of my car was a photo of a tree that we had carved our names into years before in the Phoenix Park," he explains. "I had arranged for the whole place to be covered in white roses and candles and fairy lights.
"So we drove out there where I nervously popped the question! Jilly was gobsmacked - and it's a cool story to have as well."
Nonetheless, Naoise McNally of wedding planners One Fab Day has this advice for others thinking of rocking around the Christmas tree in more ways than one: "Keep it simple - (something like) going for a walk down Grafton Street on Christmas Eve.
"You don't want your plans getting derailed by someone getting sick or something going wrong. The other big tip is you don't have to have the ring - you can have a replacement ring or a placeholder ring."
Admitting his lavish proposal was something of a logistical Nightmare Before Christmas, Marshall agrees, and proposes enlisting an army of helpers - little or otherwise.
"It was actually one of the most stressful days of my life," he laughs. "There was a lot of organisation. I had two of my great friends helping me in the background.
"I'd say not to do anything too complicated. I think you want to be able to focus on the person and enjoy it yourself.
"If you're going to do something, definitely get help from friends. I couldn't have done it without them."
Despite being surrounded by family and friends over the festive season, meanwhile, the experts say it's best to pop the question when you're alone - just in case she says ho-ho-no.
"I think do it when it's just the two of you, as opposed to in a room full of people because it can be a bit too much pressure," Sinead advises. "Then you have a bit of time to yourselves to reflect on it and can announce it to everyone together.
"But try to maybe have it somewhere you can get a photo, so it's kind of private but you have the moment captured."
Although her engagement didn't exactly go without a hitch, bride-to-be Karen says she wouldn't change a thing.
"I loved that there was nowhere other to go than home," she says. "I think if everything had been open we probably would have went to a restaurant or something like that.
"Instead we just went home and had a glass of champagne and just chilled out and rang everybody.
"We're getting married in the Carnegie Court Hotel in Swords on New Year's Eve and I can't wait," she adds. "All the Christmas lights and the Christmas trees and the candles - it's going to be absolutely gorgeous."