Christmas as a child was magical ...
Rugby star Iain Henderson, BBC NI news presenter Tara Mills and Radio Ulster’s Sean Coyle recall childhood memories of the festive season and tell Stephanie Bell how they plan to spend the big day this year
Ulster and Ireland rugby ace Iain Henderson has a very special reason to look forward to Christmas this year — his eight-month-old baby daughter, Lana. He and wife Suzanne (28), who married in July of last year, have welcomed the little addition to their family and will also be hosting Christmas Day at their house in Drumbeg for the first time.
Iain (26), who is riding high with the Ulster and Ireland rugby teams this year, had surgery on a hand injury on Monday, which will put him out of action for 10 weeks.
With 12 family members coming for dinner, he might need the extra time to get prepared.
“Last year was our first Christmas as a married couple,” Iain says. “We stayed at my parents’ house on Christmas Eve, spent the morning with them and then went to Suzanne’s parents for dinner.
“We planned to stay at her parents this year and go to mine for dinner, but now that we have Lana, we have decided to have everyone over to our house for dinner this year.
“It will be our first time cooking Christmas dinner, so it will be an interesting day for me and Suzanne. I hope it goes well. We will do a lot of prep a few days beforehand.
“We plan to cook turkey and all the trimmings and are really looking forward to it. Lana is at a good age where she is looking at the Christmas lights and loving the sparkle. We will be trying to ensure she is happy and kept in her routine as much as possible.”
Tradition for the Hendersons usually involves a trip to church for the carol service on Christmas morning, but because their baby is so young, they will miss it this year.
Iain has fond memories of Christmas as a child, growing up in Ballinderry with his two older brothers, Richard (29) and Stuart (33).
His parents, Gordon and Zoe, always made Christmas magical for the boys. “I remember on Christmas morning going into mum and dad’s bedroom around 5am and being told we weren’t allowed to go downstairs yet,” Iain explains.
“We would have tried to sneak into the lounge, but dad would have barricaded the door so that we couldn’t get in.
“We would have sat in our bedrooms with anticipation for an hour or an hour and a half until around 6.30am or 7am, when it was a more acceptable hour to get up.
“There was a lot of excitement and the fire was always lit early in the morning because the house would have been freezing.
“Mum always had stockings with our names on them — she still does. She gives them to us now and still acts surprised when we open the presents, as if she hadn’t bought them and had no idea what Santa had brought.
“It was my two older brothers who broke the news to me about the man in the red suit. I think I was seven or eight.”
The family always attended church on Christmas morning, and afterwards it fell to Iain’s dad to cook dinner while his mum organised everything else.
His grandparents would visit at some point, bringing with them more presents.
“I remember Christmas as a child as being very exciting and having a buzz and being a real family time,” Iain says.
Now that he is a parent himself, he is looking forward to creating the same magic for his daughter.
And while Lana is too young to understand what all the fuss is about, her parents are feeling the added thrill of Christmas with a child in the house.
“We’re already starting to feel the excite-
‘It’s our first time making Christmas dinner for family, I hope it goes well’
Having a child has given an added kick to the Christmas spirit for us
CHRISTMAS HOSTS: Iain Henderson with wife Suzanne and daughter Lana. Below: with Suzanne on their wedding day and (right) at the Kingspan Stadium