Michelle O’Neill: ‘We have a tradition – turkey, stuffing and gravy sandwiches’

Christmas in My House: The Sinn Féin vice-president’s ideal gift would be a ‘few days off’

“It’s been a strange couple of years,” says Michelle O’Neill, Northern Ireland’s Deputy First Minister, who is also vice-president of Sinn Féin. “Last year we all had a very different Christmas and this year I think we’re all hoping that we’ll have the ability to have our family and friends again. Certainly that’s my hope, albeit that we’re still in a challenging situation in terms of the pandemic.

“I love Christmas. For me, it’s very much about family. I’ve always been the chef in our house and I’ve always cooked for all my family,” she says, adding that she’s hoping to have her mother, uncle and brother’s family join them for Christmas, situation allowing. “This year we’re lucky enough that family that we haven’t seen for two years are home for Christmas, home from America.

“I’m looking forward to taking some time out, to connect again and feed the family. I’m a big believer in bringing people together around the dinner table. It’s a great way to talk and catch up.”

Even though they're adults now, it doesn't matter. They're still my babies. They still get the Christmas presents under the tree. I'm very traditional in terms of Christmas

O’Neill says we’d all have hoped that Christmas would look more normal. “We’re all desperate for better times and we’re all desperate to get back to how we used to do things. Unfortunately, that’s not the case and recent developments have obviously meant that we’re all now back in the space where people are anxious again, people are concerned.

“It’s a particularly difficult time, particularly for those who are more vulnerable, particularly for those who perhaps live on their own. At Christmas time we’re always mindful of those people, but given the past two years, what we’ve been through, then you’re even more mindful this year.”


Even though O’Neill’s children are adults now and her daughter recently married, she still hangs up their stockings every Christmas. “Even though they’re adults now, it doesn’t matter. They’re still my babies. They still get the Christmas presents under the tree. I’m very traditional in terms of Christmas. I like to keep things just traditional.”

As for O’Neill herself, her ideal Christmas gift would be a “few days off”.

It doesn't matter how many years your parent has passed, you always miss them, particularly on big family occasions or particular times of the year, particularly Christmas

Michelle hopes to finish work on December 23rd, though she says it depends what’s happening at the time. But Christmas at the O’Neill household is still a very busy time. “My typical Christmas Eve is that I would get up early and I would cook all day, prep all day, and the table would be set and when that’s all done we would sit down. We have a tradition in our house – turkey, stuffing and gravy sandwiches,” she says laughing and comparing it with the episode of Friends with Ross’s sandwich.

When it comes to missing loved ones, O’Neill says she always visits her father’s grave and brings flowers at Christmas and that they speak about him and share memories of previous Christmases. “We miss him and it doesn’t matter how many years your parent has passed, you always miss them, particularly on big family occasions or particular times of the year, particularly Christmas. You remember them, but you make them there in terms of the talk about them, the stories about them, the recounting of good times that you had.”

Looking to 2022, O’Neill says she hoping for a “more hopeful 2022. One where we start to emerge from this pandemic, start to rebuild”.

“It’s going to be a busy year,” she says. “There’ll be elections in the North. A very significant election coming up in May, so that will be very much my focus on the political front. We’ve a big job to do in terms of trying to lead us out of the pandemic and into better times. There’s been a lot of inequalities have been highlighted as a result of the pandemic. So I want to work hard in terms of trying to support families, support workers to ensure they get into better times.”

For her own family and children, O’Neill says “health and happiness is all you can wish for”.

Having had Covid-19 herself in 2021, O’Neill feels it gave her an awareness of how quickly Covid can turn people’s lives upside down. “So many families have been devastated as a result of Covid, so I think we’re all a bit more grateful, as a people... for what we have.”

Taking a positive from the two years that have been, Michelle says “the way that communities rallied round each other to support people throughout the past two years has been absolutely amazing. There’s just that energised, community spirit supporting those that needed it most.”

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