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Yule survive

If it's all holly on the turkey and gravy on the cake for you, help is at hand from our Christmas experts. Chrissie Russell hears their tips on how to get through the festive season

Morgan Watson, general manager at the Apartment bar and restaurant, Belfast

What's a drink that will get people into the Christmas spirit?

A hot toddy or a buttered rum - hot water, honey, butter, aged rum and cinnamon. I think two or three of those would be as much as anyone could manage though, they're got good for the waist!

How can drinkers last over Christmas and the New Year and not end up under the table by 9.30pm?

The best thing is to pace yourself and stick to one drink. If you're not used to it, don't try and keep up with the seasoned drinkers. Try and drink water between drinks.

Can hangovers be avoided?

It sounds obvious but the best advice is don't drink too much. It's also really important to drink plenty of water because it's dehydration that causes the hangover. And it's important to eat something substantial before drinking - something like a pasta dish that will absorb the liquid.

What's the best way to look sophisticated at a festive party?

I think a cocktail like a Manhattan or a Martini always looks a bit more sophisticated than a pint. But you should drink what you like so long as it's in moderation.

What's a big no-no for the drinking season?

Don't mix your drinks, drink in moderation and pace yourself. When it comes to getting home always plan ahead, travel with someone else and get a reputable taxi.

Rachel Harland (22) gift wrapper at Equinox, Howard Street, Belfast

Tissue paper or something tougher?

I think in general tissue paper is a bit too flimsy and rips too easily on sharp corners. At Equinox we use quite heavy black paper, which keeps its shape well.

What's the best way to deal with tricky shapes?

Your best bet is to get everything into a box. If the gift doesn't come in a box, then use an old shoe box so you get good, crisp lines when you're wrapping it. Gift bags are another good way to deal with tricky shapes or using tissue paper to pad the present out into a shape that's easier to deal with.

What makes a nice decorative touch?

I like to get a really long piece of ribbon, tie it round the gift and then curl it by running the edge of a pair of scissors along the length of the ribbon.

Do this with a few pieces of ribbon and gather all the curls together.

If you can get hold of a few berries they can make a gift look particularly festive, but I think holly is a bit too dangerous to work with!

Some people worry about the waste at Christmas, what's an eco friendly way to wrap?

Measure out the amount of paper you need before sticking anything down and if you do have to cut off smaller amounts of paper then use those scraps to wrap smaller things. It's all about being sparing and only using what you need.

Have you any top tips for an expertly wrapped present?

When I'm using tape I double it over so that it's on the underside of the wrapping paper and you can't see it. But the top tip has to be getting someone else to do the wrapping for you!

Jenny Bristow, chef

What's the secret to having everything hot and ready at the same time?

Christmas is the one day of the year when you are not in a rush to go anywhere, so I think everyone should just relax and enjoy the food when it's ready. But if you're really worried, the best tip is to prepare as much as you can beforehand. Steamers are also great things for making life more simple - you can steam your vegetables on three levels then sit back and have a sherry!

Have you a tip to guarantee the perfect turkey?

I think the big secret is plenty of moisture - I love butter or olive oil over the top and the stuffing put in the neck of the bird, not in the main part. Another important thing to remember is how long turkeys can take to defrost. An 18lb turkey could take three days to fully defrost, so don't be thinking you can take it out of the freezer on Christmas Day.

Is there any way to make the dreaded sprout more palatable?

Every year people try and do something different to sprouts. Leave them alone!

With so much food on offer how can people avoid indigestion?

I like to eat at about four or five o'clock in the afternoon and have one big meal that the family can sit over for about four hours. I think the big thing is to try not to pile up the courses and maybe have an hour's grace in between and a little lie down.

What's the secret ingredient to a perfect Christmas dinner?

Happiness makes the perfect Christmas meal. Food is a part of it, but having the perfect day goes beyond that.

Sussanne Gillespie, section manager in menswear at Marks & Spencer

Is there a secret to last minute stress-free Christmas shopping?

If you've left it to the last minute, then you're best going out with specific ideas in your mind about what you want to get everybody. Just go for it, have a good breakfast and wear comfortable shoes. Don't wear a heavy coat. Most shops in the city centre have central heating and getting too hot will just cause you more frustration. Allow yourself plenty of coffee breaks.

When's the best time to hit the shops?

You're best getting in at 8am. Going last thing at night is also good, except if you're doing food shopping, as there may not be everything you're looking for.

On your own or with someone else?

If you've lots to do, then it's maybe a good idea to try and divide the things up between you. But don't get stressed if what the person comes back with isn't exactly what you had in mind, just accept their help.

How can people keep safe from pick-pockets?

Using plastic is better than carrying hundreds of pounds and on some credit cards or store cards you can earn points whilst you spend. I think it's best to carry a bag that you can put across your shoulder and has a zip.

Any top tips?

One stop shopping is definitely a big way to take the stress out of buying. At Marks & Spencer you can get gifts for all the family and for all ranges of budget. You can also get all your food shopping with a lot of items pre-prepared. To give customers even more of a helping hand, we've even categorised gifts into different sections. But another tip is if you're clothes shopping, keep the receipt with the present. That takes away any embarrassment for you or the other person if the gift needs to be exchanged.

Linda Wright, supervisor and counsellor for Relate NI

Why does Christmas put more stress on families and relationships?

In spite of Christmas being a happy time, it is also a time that puts stress on families because people have such high expectations of the day. The best way to avoid this pressure is to plan ahead and know what everyone expects of the day. Share your thoughts with your partner and don't expect them to be a mind reader over things like presents and how many people you expect to have coming to the house on Christmas day.

What's the best way to deal with tension?

If someone has planned a surprise you should appreciate the time and effort that went into it, even if it's not what you were expecting. If there is a problem, make sure it is dealt with immediately, and if an argument develops then stick to what the argument is about - don't bring up unrelated issues. And try to be tolerant of your extended family - remember, it is one of the few times during the year that you have to see them.

What are the most common problems?

Some people may be newly single or separated from their children at Christmas, which can be very difficult, but parents need to make sure they aren't using the children to point-score. Provision should be made to keep in contact with the children. People also make the mistake of trying to recreate past Christmasses, you can't do this; instead make it your own.

Can families get help?

For families or relationships already showing cracks, Christmas can be the thing that brings things to a head. Relate's busiest time of the year is January and we offer counselling for partners, young people and families. People can find out more by calling 0870 242 6091 or visit

Anne Townsend, regional manager for Cruse Northern Ireland

Christmas is a particularly difficult time for people dealing with bereavement, isn't it?

Yes. Bereavement is a unique process, but for many people anniversaries and times like Christmas really remind people how things are never going to be the same again and make them think about their loss.

What can people do to get through it?

Each person is going to deal with it in their own way. I don't think it helps to stay clear of celebrations, but people will decide themselves what is going to be of benefit to them at this time. Acceptance is an important part of the grieving process and accepting that things are going to be different. Christmas can be difficult, but it can also be a time for happy memories. Everybody is different and there is no right or wrong way to deal with bereavement - you can't say "do this" and everything will be better.

How can people support a friend who is dealing with bereavement?

I think when trying to support someone don't tell them to pull themselves together and it doesn't always help to compare experiences or make assumptions about what the person is going through.

Instead, let the person talk through their feelings in their own time.

At Cruse we offer specific services to support people at Christmas time.

They can find out more details at

Belfast Telegraph


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