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From who ends up cooking to their fave films, the star clerics on having festive fun

Ahead of their shows in Belfast and Londonderry, two of The Priests tell Una Brankin about the joy of their childhood Christmases, and reveal how they plan to celebrate this one

Published 17/12/2015

Christmas cheer: Fathers Eugene and Martin O’Hagan and Fr David Delargy
Christmas cheer: Fathers Eugene and Martin O’Hagan and Fr David Delargy
Wise men: the three priests singing together

It's a particularly hectic time of the year for superstar clerics The Priests, aka Fr Martin and Fr Eugene O'Hagan, from Londonderry, and Fr David Delargy, from Ballymena and now based in Hannahstown, Belfast.

All three endeavour to attend Advent assemblies in their parish schools and re-enactments of the Nativity story in the lead up to their Christmas services, and each celebrates the traditional candlelit Midnight Mass - albeit at an earlier hour - in their local churches.

As well as leading the annual carol singing services with their parishioners, The Priests will be performing at Belfast's Waterfront Hall this Sunday, December 20 and at the Millennium Forum in Londonderry on Monday, December 21.

'I've vivid memories of singing carols and leaving out mince pies and some beer for Santa'

Father David Delargy says:

I usually have Christmas dinner in my mother's house in Ballymena, although for several years we have also celebrated Christmas with my sister Nicola and brother-in-law, Paul, who live just outside Howth in Dublin.

This year, however, I will be celebrating the day with my sister Philippa, brother-in-law Billy and their family in Ballyboghill, Co Dublin.

I really can't say what will be on the menu. I expect there will be the traditional turkey and trimmings. Her family all have different likes and dislikes when it comes to food and I imagine it will take some careful planning to please everyone. Knowing my sister, I expect she will make a big effort and it will all be lovely, and done with the least fuss.

I'm happy to help out if needed. I can boil peas and mash spuds and am pretty good at carving a turkey. I'm pretty good at tidying up afterwards too. Gin and wine may well feature at some point in the day, or maybe a nice glass or two of Prosecco. I expect to have a full tummy and be nicely chilled by 7pm - ready for a good film and maybe a doze on the sofa or a comfy armchair.

I always enjoy It's A Wonderful Life. I'm invariably a sucker for its sentimentality. I think it illustrates beautifully what the message of Christmas is all about - the experience of compassion and love among family and friends, as well as generous solidarity with the needy and less fortunate in our human community.

As for Christmas hymns, I love Sally Herbert's fresh and innovative arrangement of God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen which somehow manages to conjure up both Dickensian London at Christmas time and the magic and mystery of the Nativity.

I also really love The Shepherd's Farewell or L'adieu du Bergers by Hector Berlioz from his oratorio, l'Enfance du Christ.

Around Christmas time there are so many seasonal treats on offer and, unfortunately, most of them do no favours at all to the waistline.

My favourite Christmas treat would have to be turkey, stuffing and cranberry sandwiches made from the leftovers of Christmas dinner best enjoyed late on Christmas night or on Boxing Day, washed down with a big glass of cold milk. Now, what could be nicer than that. Yum.

I still have vivid memories of Christmas from my childhood. I recall singing carols around the Christmas tree - all magical, with coloured lights and baubles.

I remember the excitement of going to bed on Christmas Eve, having left out mince pies and some beer for Santa and some nibbles for the reindeer... waking up during the night and looking out the window to see if there was any sign of Santa on his sleigh.

Then, very early on Christmas morning while it was still dark, feeling down to the bottom of the bed to see if the Christmas stocking had been filled.

Then the excitement of coming downstairs to see what other gifts Santa had brought. And I remember one Christmas morning, playing outside in the snow in the front garden with my brother Frank, both of us dressed in our new cowboy outfits that Santa had brought us.

My most cherished Christmas gift was my first bicycle. Up to then, my elder sister and brother both had bicycles and I was using a tricycle. Having my own bicycle made me feel more grown up - the same as them. In those days, it was possible to cycle the whole way around the house in a big circle. We were happy doing that, just going round and around for hours and hours on end - building up as much speed as possible, then freewheeling while calling out "running out of petrol".

By the way, 'petrol' must be said in a Ballymena accent - oh, the innocence of it all.

Boxing Day is usually a very lazy day. I take a long lie in, if I can, and get up about 11.30am or noon. After a bite of brunch, I like to head down to the pub with my sisters and brother, and their spouses. We meet up with friends there and while away the afternoon and evening, catching up with each other's lives and generally having fun. Eventually we make our way home and have a nice casserole dinner and let the party continue into the early hours.

Next day, I head back to the parish and resume my duties there. On New Year's Eve I tend to become a bit of a recluse. I'm not usually up for New Year's parties. I find the whole run up to Christmas to be quite exhausting and so I like to have that quiet time on my own. I don't watch the clock to bring in the New Year at midnight and don't bother with Auld Lang Syne.

The first Mass at the beginning of the New Year is always a special moment; a time to look forward in hope to what the New Year will bring and to ask for God's blessings.

I find what's going on in Syria, Iraq and Palestine and other countries of the Middle East deeply disturbing and unsettling. I am horrified at the widespread destruction and loss of life in those countries, and the suffering and oppression that is experienced by those who still live there.

After the recent terrorist attacks in Paris I feel very strongly that our quality and way of life in the West is under threat and that our lives are becoming so much more insecure.

Having grown up and lived through the violence and blind sectarianism of the Troubles, (Fr Delargy's former parish church in Aldergrove was burned down) and then, having enjoyed a period of relative peace and stability in recent years, I have no desire to go back to any kind of oppressed and uncertain life.

I worry about politicians making knee-jerk reactions and militaristic responses which may only serve to make things worse. Yet I believe that the cruelty and barbarity of Isis and other terrorist organisations must be effectively confronted and successfully overcome.

So my hope and prayer in 2016 is for cool heads, wise political leadership and ultimately for an outcome to these difficult problems that will allow people everywhere to be able to live the lives they wish for, in freedom and peace.

'There was a whole scene of wonder and although we had little, we did have imagination'

Fr Martin O'Hagan says:

My brother Eugene and I will be gathering with the rest of the family on Christmas Day in the Glens of Antrim and we will probably have the traditional Christmas dinner - although we will have to watch the figure.

We will have some turkey, ham, the seasonal potatoes and some veg, with a hot sauce to stimulate the taste buds and all of this with a glass of wine, purely for digestive purposes, of course. We might have a little Prosecco to toast Christmas and possibly a little gin and tonic too.

Eugene works away at the cooking, but I am something of an apprentice in the kitchen. I'm the tidy-upper and now that there is a dishwasher, I have finally reached heaven.

As for Christmas shopping, I actually tend to do most of mine on the cusp of Christmas. I love it because Belfast is usually less frenetic.

I can pace myself with friends and stop for some lunch at a leisurely tempo - this is a great Christmas treat for me. I just savour it all and catch up with some friends before the intensity of the celebration in the parish.

I don't get much time to watch films over Christmas but my favourite is Polar Express, the reason being that the little boy remains humble and yet open to new possibilities, and it is because of this unselfish nature that his dreams become real. Can that not be a possibility for us, too?

One of my favourite hymns is Silent Night, written by a priest and first sung to a guitar accompaniment in a little church in Austria.

It captures the sanctity of the sacred scene in Bethlehem and maybe rescues us from the frenetic, and enables us to focus on what really matters for life. Its simplicity and harmonies are far reaching into the human spirit and reveal the sacredness of Jesus becoming just like us in all things but sin, becoming 'flesh'.

I think my most vivid memory of childhood Christmases, just beyond Claudy, was the preparation - the fires were lit in the rooms of the house.

I remember the warm glow and our rosy cheeks. I remember once when there was snow on the ground; indeed, the whole scene was of wonder and though we had little, we had imagination. Perhaps we did see the sleigh and the reindeer that evening and that figure in red?

I recall the lights on the tree, special treats and our journey to the crib in the church, which just made everything magical and full of mystery.

My most cherished gift from Christmas was a watch from my father and a pocket-watch from my mother. Both of these mean so much to me as my parents are now at rest in Christ. They remind me of them both and the sacrifices that they made for all of us and the gifts bestowed on us that are beyond price.

This year on St Stephen's Day - Boxing Day, I will be in the parish and hopefully will get some time for a little break.

I will be celebrating a wedding in the New Year and look forward to the event very much indeed. I will be with friends and we can see the New Year in together, so a time of joy for us all and the family too.

I suppose I must be realistic and keep the resolutions small so that they are actually achievable. I would hope to try to be more in touch with what it means to be a priest in a changing society, more in touch with my faith and prayer.

I would like to continue to develop the music and continue to bring this great gift of music to others through our community projects, and to concentrate, too, on the new album we hope to record in the spring of 2016.

Belfast Telegraph

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