Happy landings in Belfast as joyful families are reunited for Christmas
Anyone in search of the true spirit of Christmas had only to witness the scenes of joy at local airports yesterday. It was one of the busiest days of the seasonal rush, with 20,000 passengers arriving at Belfast International Airport alone.
Around 125,000 travellers are expected to pass through Aldergrove in the five days leading up to Christmas.
And 10,000 passengers a day are currently pouring through arrivals at George Best Belfast City Airport, with yesterday and today set to be among the busiest days.
Arriving at the International on a flight from Newcastle yesterday was Rachel Argent (33) accompanied by daughter Annie (3) and nine-month-old son George.
They were met by her ecstatic parents, Holywood couple Jill and Paddy MacDonald, who enveloped the trio in a warm embrace.
"This is George's first Christmas, and for him to spend it in Northern Ireland will make it extra special," Rachel told the Belfast Telegraph.
"My dad hasn't decorated the Christmas tree at home yet as Annie is going to decide which baubles to place on it - although George will probably pull the lights off it!
"My husband Ted is a doctor and he is still working, so he will join us later."
Her beaming mum Jill said that the family would be spending a "traditional Christmas together" at their Co Down home, and also planned to take in a pantomime.
"We will be going to see Beauty And The Beast at the Lyric Theatre, and on Christmas Day we will go to church and then sit down with about nine of us around the table," she explained.
"Afterwards we will play games like charades, and later we will have more guests coming round.
"It's lovely to have Rachel and the kids home, and her brothers Andrew and Jamie will be joining us for a big family Christmas."
Also alighting from the Newcastle flight were teachers Leah McAllister (24) and her partner Craig Beckwith (27), who kept a careful eye on the couple's 16-month-old daughter Eden as she excitedly toddled around the baggage carousels.
"We live in Newcastle so it's our first Christmas as a family of three in Northern Ireland, and we plan to spend it with my family in Bangor," Leah said.
"This year will be the first that Eden understands what's going on, and it means a lot to my parents to have her here. She's their first and only grandchild.
"They will spoil her rotten, and me as well. It will be good to have a bit of help with the childcare!
"Craig and my dad are planning to go to Down Royal on Boxing Day, and my mum, sister and I will hit the sales."
Musician Joel Byrne-McCullough (38) and his wife Clare Foley (41), a social worker, described the festive atmosphere as "magical" as they ushered daughter Bella (3) and 18-month old son Felix towards the exit door.
"I'm from north Belfast and in the past we would have enjoyed a walk up Cave Hill on Christmas Day, but I think the kids might interfere with those plans this year," laughed Joel.
Arriving from Wroclaw in Poland was Tomasz Opara (47), who was excitedly greeted by his daughter Isabella (24) and her husband Krzysztof (24).
The young couple have lived in Omagh for the past two years, where Isabella is employed as a production worker at Crosshill Gallery.
"I haven't seen my dad in six months and it will be his first Christmas in Northern Ireland," she said.
"He wants to see how we live here and why I have decided to make my home here. He misses me, but there are more opportunities in Northern Ireland."
Also waiting impatiently for the flight from Poland was Greenisland resident Malvina Kedzjia (32), who was accompanied by her mother Eva (60), daughter Alicia (5) and son Max (2).
The family excitedly welcomed Malvina's sister Agata (18), a high school student from Wieruszow, who confided that she "prefers Christmases in Northern Ireland".
"I don't see my sister very often, so coming here makes me really happy," Agata said.
And Malvina revealed that, since moving here, she has had to adapt her Christmas traditions.
"In Poland, December 6 is Saint Nicolas' Day, then December 24 is when baby Jesus gives presents to the kids - but since I've come here I've changed that so that Santa comes on December 24 and the kids open their presents on Christmas Day," she said.
International business student Emer Conway (19) was met by her dad Martin as she stepped off the Edinburgh flight, and sheepishly admitted that she had "emptied the washing basket into my suitcase" in preparation for the trip home.
"I'm really looking forward to a home-cooked meal and to getting my washing done," laughed the University of Edinburgh student.
"I am looking forward to getting home to Strabane, relaxing and seeing my friends."
Ballymoney student doctor Shannon McAllister (23) was also delighted to enjoy the warmth of home during her Christmas holidays from the University of Edinburgh.
"I love coming home - it's about sleeping in my own bed, being in my own town, seeing my friends and my dog Sorcha and being part of a smaller community," she said.
"I have exams after Christmas so it's good to relax and get my head cleared."
Shannon was greeted by her mum Alison and brother Shaw (19), who is in his first year studying law at Ulster University at Magee.
"It's great having both my kids back at home - the house is very quiet without them!" she laughed.
"It's not Christmas until we do the trip to the airport."