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A diplomatic Christmas: Ambassadors to Ireland explain what the big day means to them

From mulled wine in markets to lighting the Menorah, three yuletide-loving ambassadors share their festive memories and traditions.

Caitriona O'Neill and William Gallagher

For ambassadors to Ireland, Christmas is decidedly more down to earth than Ferrero Rocher’s advertisement would have us believe. Instead, they talk of log cabins, chopping down their own Christmas tree and gorging on fried potato cakes. 

We asked the current French, Canadian and Israeli ambassadors to share some of their Christmas memories and tell us how they will celebrate the festive season this year.

 Jean-Pierre Thébault, French Ambassador

Photo officielle - Ambassadeur Jean-Pierre Thébault

Christmas in Ireland is always a special time. Coming from a previous posting where Christmas was less of a tradition, my family and I always welcome the opportunity to share this moment together and experience the Christmas atmosphere here.

I’m originally from Lourdes so Christmas brings back memories of snow, Christmas carols, chimney fires, mulled wines in markets and long and happy meals with my family. Snow might be rarer in Ireland but I do enjoy the Irish take on mulled wine and I am pleased to see Alsatian-style Christmas markets are starting to bloom all over the country.

My children also made sure I had my Christmas jumper so we could have a traditional Irish experience. The French Christmas tradition usually calls for a long cooked meal with family members. I will be joined this year by family members who live in the French territory of Guadeloupe and I intend to marry two cuisine traditions in the meal I will prepare: Irish ingredients with flavours from the French Caribbean to create a Christmas of two islands.

Some of the ideas I have include “Jambon antillais” - Irish ham prepared with cane sugar and pineapple; “Boudin antillais” – small pieces of black pudding with spices; “Acras de morue” – small pieces of Irish cod deep-fried with chives and parsley.

As for drink, I am not yet an expert at the “Twelve Pubs of Christmas” tradition but I’m sure some of the Embassy staff can help with that, although we might decide on champagne.

Finally I will make sure to go horse racing on St Stephen’s Day, in the family car decorated with antlers and a red nose. My young daughter will love it. And who knows, I might start a trend among ambassadors in Ireland.

HE Zeev Boker, Israeli Ambassador


Like Christmas, Hanukkah is very much a family event. There are two main elements that I particularly enjoy. The first is the lighting of the Menorah, saying the blessings, lighting the candles and the sing song. Children play with dradles and gifts are exchanged.

The second tradition, as in many Jewish celebrations, is the food. Traditionally, oily food is served to commemorate the miracle of the oil found in the holy temple of Jerusalem. People eat Sufganiot (special donuts) but my own particular favourite is Latkes (fried potato cakes).

I grew up in a kibbutz where everything is shared in a communal environment. What I remember most from my childhood are all the families gathering in the community hall, each with their own Menorah, sharing stories and memories with each other.

This year the Jewish Festival of Hanukah coincides with Christmas, making it a special time for Jewish and Christian communities in Israel.

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HE Kevin Vickers, Canadian Ambassador


I always go to midnight mass. I’ll go home to Canada.  I’ve a log house in Miramichi, not far from where my third great-grandfather from Bantry settled, and that will be it.

We always have a family get together. My mother (she will be 90 soon) will be front and centre once again this year. We used to have a family tradition of having a big dinner after midnight mass but given my mother’s age and stuff, we don’t do that anymore.

My grandchildren, Luke and Loplan, make the trip up from Moncton, New Brunswick. It’s a short drive. I also have a granddaughter, Reese, who is the apple of my eye.

I’ve a log home with a cathedral ceiling that is 24 ft high. The surrounding wooded property is around three acres and my granddaughter Reese and I are the ones responsible for going out and chopping down a Christmas tree.

There’s already loads of snow down there and I just got the news this morning there’s no school in Miramichi, New Brunswick because of a huge snowstorm. In Ireland, I live in Ranelagh. The stores there are well decorated, and the church too. There’s that Christmas feeling about Ireland too and it’s actually very, very similar to what you’d experience in Canada.

About the author:

Caitriona O'Neill and William Gallagher

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