Belfast Telegraph

Magical festive season with the Maginness family

An elaborate stage-set for the Santa believers

AS an eminent barrister, Belfast Lord Mayor Alban Maginness is used to having all the answers.

Sometimes, just sometimes, however, even he comes unstuck... and it's not in the courtroom.

Sometimes, just sometimes, however, even he comes unstuck... and it's not in the courtroom.

No, it's his efforts as Father Christmas that can land him squarely in the dock on the morning of December 25.

'We still have two Santa believers in our house,' explains his wife, lady mayoress Carmel.

'And that means the other six older children have to play along with it.

'On Christmas Eve when Alban and I leave out the presents we go to some bother, sprinking soot over the hearth and dropping a little glitter from the elves. It's quite an elaborate stage-set, you know.

'But last year some real snow fell overnight and the children wanted to know why there were no sleigh tracks on the roof or anywhere else for that matter.

'It was,' she admits, 'rather difficult for us to explain ...'With eight children of their own, plus a wide family circle on both Carmel and Alban's sides, the present list had in recent years grown to alarming proportions.

But now Carmel's family have taken the initiative in cutting back. With a draw.

'Earlier in the year my relatives pull names out of a hat and you only have to buy one present _ for the person you are matched with,' she says.

'It works very well. Otherwise you would literally be buying gifts for scores more people.'Home economics teacher Carmel doesn't believe, however, that the emphasis people place on buying presents has wiped out the true meaning of Christmas.

'People go on about that but at school we do a lot of preparation with carol services and the advent wreath.

'I know there is a lot of money spent but at the same time who wants to see the Scrooge element creeping in?'It is after all a nice opportunity to give something to people.'A typical Christmas in the lord mayor's household sees the family attending Midnight Mass followed by an early awakening the next morning.

Alban explains: 'We usually get woken around 6am by very excited youngsters.

'They have great fun as their parents look on stunned and bleary- eyed and trying to be as enthusiastic as they are.'Some of the family may go to church again and then, after calling with Alban's parents in Belfast, the family sets out en masse for Carmel's parents' home in Coleraine.

'We have our traditional lunch there. It's a luxurious and lengthy affair with plenty of good chat, good wine and good fun,' adds the Lord Mayor.

'Later on I always try to go out for a good walk along the Bann. The Salmon's Leap is a beautiful spot on Christmas Day.

'I really love Christmas and I always have done. Tome, it's a magical time.'

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