Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 19 April 2014

Would you swap Christmas turkey for a BBQ?

Hot sunshine, lounging by the pool, skiing, and miles from home: our reporter meets the families who prefer Christmas abroad

Justin Kernoghan with his wife Brenda and their two girls, Rachel (left) and Rebecca

Mulled wine, mince pies, more food than you would normally eat in a week, and the inevitable argument over which Christmas movie the family should sit down and watch together.

Traditionally, Christmas is the time when most families gather around the dinner table to share turkey and crackers.

However, some families are choosing to spend the Christmas holidays in a different way, taking advantage of a quiet time of year in the office. Instead of a Christmas dinner surrounded by dozens of their nearest and dearest, these families are packing their sunblock and swimming costumes and heading for the beach instead -- with forwarding instructions for Santa of course.

Justin Kernoghan (42), is a photographer, and lives in Belfast with his wife Brenda and their children, Rachel (9) and Rebecca (6). He says:

Last year was the first year we went away for Christmas. It's the quietest time of year for me, as nothing happens in news, and there isn't any commercial work. We asked the girls what they thought of the idea and they said as long as Santa could still comes to Tenerife they were OK with it.

It was a bit of a shock to the extended family as we always have the big Christmas Day dinner at our house -- there's usually about 20 of us. We told them not to worry though, as we would still have a big do three days before we went away. We're doing the same thing this year so we'll have our family Christmas on December 20.

We still enjoy having everyone round with everyone in a good mood and the girls like seeing their relatives. At the same time though, we like to get away from all the hassle too.

We usually just go away over Christmas for a week. I had to email Santa and ask him to come a little early on December 20 but the girls feel a little special that they get a visit from him early. We still bring an extra suitcase with five presents each for them to be opened on Christmas morning.

We went to Tenerife last year and this year we'll be skiing in Andorra. We tend to have alternative ski and sun holidays anyway as I like to ski and Brenda likes the sun. The hotel we're staying at will have a gala banquet on Christmas this year, while last year we had a barbecue on the beach.

I think this is something we'll continue to do -- the girls didn't hesitate when we asked them if they wanted to go away again this year. Christmas can be mad. You get to see everyone but you don't get the chance to spend quality time with everyone so it's nice to have just the four of us.

I always preferred Boxing Day anyway. Then it's just the four of us helping the kids play with their new toys."

Elaine Davison (45) runs cleaning company, Angel Maids, and lives in Greenisland with her partner Stephen and children Richard (14) and Owen (15). She says:

We're going skiing to Bulgaria -- we've been skiing around Christmas time for years as we have an apartment in Bulgaria, but last year was the first Christmas we actually spent out there. My mother had passed away during the year. I never would have left her before, over Christmas Day.

The boys have been skiing since they were six or seven and love it. Normally we would have gone for New Year's Eve.

We went out on December 22 last year and came back on New Year's Eve. There was a big party of 22 of us and we booked the restaurant we wanted in July so we knew we would get the table. I don't think the oven in the apartment has ever been switched on.

My brother and sister aren't coming with us this year, nor are Stephen's parents, so this year it's just the four of us going. We're really looking forward to it -- the atmosphere is fantastic. Stephen and I actually dressed up on the slopes as Mr and Mrs Claus. We ski every day when we're away and Christmas Day is no different. The apartment is decorated because we only use it from December to March anyway.

Before we go, we have a little Christmas dinner with my brother and sister. It means the boys can get presents and proper stuffing -- you can't get it in Bulgaria.

Running a cleaning company means the phone rings off the hook in December, so closing up over Christmas gives me and the girls who work for me a break.

Once Christmas has come it gets very quiet anyway, so getting this bit of time to chill out is really needed."

Paul Carson (40) lives in Newtownards with his wife Claire and children Rob (5) and Abigail (12). He runs a planning firm and exports shellfish from Portavogie. He says:

We've been going away for Christmas for five years. One year, I just wanted to see if there was somewhere you could go to get a bit of heat over the Christmas holidays. We found a hotel in Tenerife that we really liked and we've been going back every single year.

I have lots of cousins, but our Christmas gathering would have just been my mum, dad, brother and his partner, so it's quite small. Telling my mum and dad that first year was very hard, because it meant they couldn't spend Christmas with the kids -- we actually took them with us the first Christmas. That first time we only went for a week, the time after that was 10 days, and now we go for two weeks, which takes in Christmas and the New Year.

We go to a very Spanish hotel each year, so it's a little different. They still have a tree and big spread and Santa comes in the evening for the little ones.

Part of the reason we go away is because Christmas has become so commercial. We're not big into presents. The kids get a holiday and a nice time and a few small things from us but that's it.

I actually miss the socialising aspect and not being able to see our friends. The main thing for me though is that all the businesses that I'm involved with shut down between Christmas and New Year. The rest of the time I don't stop and never sit down. If we don't go away then I'm pulling my hair out looking for things to do. If we go away, however, I know that I don't need to worry about work and I can relax and spend time with the family. It's probably the easiest time for me to relax.

It's lovely getting some sun at this time of year - in Tenerife it's about 24 to 25 degrees, which isn't scorching, but nice and comfortable."

Christine Watson (32) lives in Belfast and works as a marketing consultant and mentor. She says:

I first went away in 2011. At that point I was in a long-distance relationship and it actually made sense to go away, as one of us would have had to fly to spend Christmas with the other, so in the end we both flew. It was all about us getting to spend some quality time together.

My family were quite excited for me -- I did Facebook and Tweet them on Christmas Day. I have quite a large family so Christmas can be a busy time, but my mum works at Christmas so it's not really the same without her.

We went to Lanzarote for a week and then both flew back into Belfast for New Year's Eve.

Being in a hotel was fantastic. There were no dishes, no cleaning and the bubbly was free-flowing. We had gone all-inclusive at the hotel and when you look at the cost of that compared to hosting Christmas for your family I think it worked out quite well. You get some excellent bargains at this time of the year, so you can go to a five-star hotel. This year I'm going to Cuba with a friend and I booked it very last minute.

This year has been manic -- I'm self-employed and it's been very busy, so I haven't had a holiday. The only thing I've done is visit my sister in Scotland when she had a new baby. That was a working holiday too -- I had my laptop with me.

Over the Christmas holidays my clients genuinely don't need me and I don't need to be running training courses. It's very difficult to take a holiday and switch off the phone at any other time. I do check emails, but not as often.

I start my Christmas shopping in January -- I have a little stash of presents that I add to throughout the year. It means that I can give my family their gifts before I head off."

IF YOU WANT TO GO AWAY

It's not to late to book your own Christmas getaway with one of these offers for some last-minute relaxation.

Contact Europa Travel on 02890623211 or visit europatravel.com

From Belfast International Airport.

Tenerife, all-inclusive five-star Sandos Hotel for one week departing on December 20, £715; Tenerife, all-inclusive five-star Sandos Hotel San Blas departing on December 24 for one week, £819; Cancun, Mexico, all-inclusive four-star Sirenis Hotel Riviera Maya, departing December 24 for one week, £1,388.

Christmas getaways from Jet2holidays direct from Belfast International Airport. Go to www.jet2holidays.com

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