Christmas season is just around the corner and everyone is excited for sure. In fact, we have our own Christmas traditions to guide us through the holidays. But what’s fascinating about Christmas is how other countries celebrate it. I would like to talk about Irish traditions during this exciting holiday season.
Christmas in Ireland Traditions
Truth be told, Christmas in Ireland is somewhat similar to that in the United States. But there are some traditions that are distinctly theirs. In most countries, holiday events happen before Christmas until Christmas day when it ends. However, in Ireland, the festivities begin close to Christmas day and will run until New Year and more! That would be cool, don’t you think?
It doesn’t matter if you want to celebrate the holiday season in Ireland or want to add a bit of Irish tradition to your own holiday, you’ll know everything there is to know here.
Christmas Traditions in Ireland
The Irish have plenty of Christmas traditions rooted in the Gaelic and Catholic religions. Knowing what they are before heading here for the festivities will make them appreciate you even more. That said, let’s take a look at how these folks celebrate this special time of the year.
A family home is cleaned from top to bottom for the Christmas season. Hollies appear on the mantel while mistletoes are hung around doorways and beams. Just like in the USA, anyone standing under mistletoe should be kissed. Aside from that, the Irish do love to decorate their yards just like in America and in the United Kingdom.
Meanwhile, advent calendars cropped up during this season. On the first day of advent, and the succeeding days, the kids will open one door on the calendar. Each one of these doors comes with a treat. This can be candy or perhaps a trinket. Children love counting down until Christmas with this calendar.
In addition, it is customary for families to give some monetary gift to those who provide them with regular services. This is to show them how they appreciate their work.
Christmas Shopping on December 8th
December 8 is a holy day for Catholics and in Ireland, children don’t have to go to school. This is why it has become the biggest holiday shopping in the country. In fact, those who live in rural areas head to the cities to do their Christmas shopping. No wonder Christmas markets are up and running during this time. One, in particular, is the Belfast Christmas Market. You’ll find this market beside the beautifully illuminated city hall.
Meanwhile, Black Friday was introduced to modern Ireland by marketing companies. Although the Irish do not celebrate Thanksgiving, it is the day after that signals the start of the holiday rush. Before, it was considered bad luck to put up holiday decorations before December 8. Today, many are excited about the holidays to come.
Since Ireland is mostly Catholic, Irish families hear midnight mass at their local church on Christmas Eve. They conduct this mass at midnight with each person holding a candle to light up during the mass. The mass is to celebrate the birth of Jesus. Unlike in the USA where children leave socks or stockings for Santa’s gifts, in Ireland, children leave sacks to be filled instead.
Aside from that, the kitchen table is often laden with food and drinks. In addition, women bake a small seed cake for everyone at home. This cake contains caraway seeds. After dinner, families leave some milk and bread behind. This is to show hospitality. Also, people in different parts of Ireland leave their doors unlocked back in the day but no longer.
The Candle by the Window
Also, it’s an old tradition to leave a lit candle decorated with sprigs of holly on the sill of the largest window. This was to help any passersby find their way to their destination. Of course, leaving a lit candle unattended is dangerous. Today, they just use an electric candle for safety purposes.
According to ancient times, the lit candle symbolizes a welcome for the Holy Family while searching for a place to stay. This was for the Virgin Mary to give birth to baby Jesus. Also, during the Penal Times, Catholic priests were not allowed to conduct masses. The lit candle denoted that the family living in the house was catholic. It also meant that it was a safe place for them to hold mass.
Nollaig Shona Duit! This means “Merry Christmas” in Irish Gaelic or in Gaelic greeting. The Irish celebrate December 25th by focusing on the religious aspect of the celebration. This is quite different from the secular style in other countries. On a good note, children do receive gifts from Santa Claus on this day. You might be wishing for a white Christmas while in Ireland, but usually, the snow is light. This means that it will not blanket the entire country.
Aside from that, Christmas dinner is a huge affair here. After all, families get together during this time hence there is always a bounty of food on the table. Dinner happens early in the afternoon with the main course revolving around turkey, chicken, or goose. Of course, there are plenty of sides to go with them like cranberry sauce. Also, the dessert is usually a Christmas pudding with a rum-based sauce. Yum! If you want to add a bit of Irish celebration to your own Christmas table, why not make some plum pudding?
Seeing the Christmas Lights
Meanwhile, the villages, towns, and cities in Ireland light up during the Christmas period. In fact, in Dublin, they put lights at the end of November all the way to January 6th. It is not surprising that travelers come and visit Ireland during the festive season.
Irish Christmas Decorations
Irish houses will be festooned with Christmas decorations soon. In fact, aside from the yard being lit up with colorful lights, you’ll notice that each home will have a Christmas tree by the window. Old Irish Christmas traditions saw a ring of holly gracing the front door. Step inside an Irish home and you’ll find that they use mostly holly and ivy to decorate their space. These were the main plants that grew during this season. It is believed that when you find a holly bush growing in your yard, it will bring good luck. This is why many decorate their homes with red holly berries.
Before, decorations weren’t put up until December 8th which is a Holy Day in the country. They were then left until Little Christmas or until January 6th. However, it seems that Ireland is feeling holiday fever just like in other countries. In fact, they are putting up their Christmas decorations as early as November!
St Stephen’s Day and the Wren Boys
St. Stephens Day happens to be close to Christmas Day itself which is why it is worth talking about. They celebrate it on Boxing Day or December 26th which is a National Holiday in the country. This has become a tradition in Northern Ireland and in the UK. According to the stories, a wren gave away the hiding place of St. Stephen. He was subsequently caught and killed. Afterward, the locals refer to this bird as the “Devil’s Bird”. In fact, they were hunted during medieval times.
Since then “wren boys” go door to door in what the Irish people call Wren Boys Procession. During Wren day, a group of wrens will go house to house singing Christmas carols in exchange for treats. This tradition is still happening in Ireland, but instead of using a dead wren, they use a plastic version instead. Aside from that, this was also the day when people dress up in old clothes, wear straw suits, and danced to live music.
Aside from that, the Irish watch horse races during St. Stephen’s Day too. There are several of these races throughout the country.
Santa Claus and his elves!
The Irish children wait for the arrival of Santa Claus or Father Christmas with anticipation. In fact, families clean their chimneys so that it will be easier for Santa Claus to climb down. Also, they don’t their bringer of gifts to be covered in soot. In Ireland, children call him Santy or Santee.
Christmas Day Swim
The Irish are quite fond of festive swims. Now, if you are thinking they swim in a warm swimming pool, think again. When they say Christmas day swim, they mean going dipping in the freezing waters of the Irish Sea. Or even the Atlantic Ocean!
If you are in Dublin, Forty Foot is a popular swimming area for the locals in South Dublin. You will find them running into the waters during Christmas time. The same goes true in places like Howth and Sandycove as well as in Laoghaire and Killiney. Before, only men were allowed to do the Christmas dip, but in recent years, everyone can join in this freezing tradition. Head to Ireland’s beaches during Christmas morning either to participate in the dip or just watch the locals.
Christmas celebrations in Ireland will not be complete without mince pies. These are little pies made from mincemeat. This is basically made from dried fruit, spices, and distilled spirits. Originally, the pies did have meat but thankfully they removed it. In fact, you should try one when in Ireland.
Christmas cake is part of the Irish culture which means that you will find one in every home during the holiday season. You may not realize this but you might even have one on your table too. It is basically a fruitcake covered in white icing and beautifully decorated.
The cake itself contains candied cherries, raisins, and other types of fruits. In fact, this cake is quite popular with the older generations.
Meanwhile, Ireland celebrates Women’s Christmas or Nollaig na mBan during the Feast of the Epiphany. This happens every January 6th. Traditionally, the Feast of Epiphany begins the last 12 days of Christmas. Also, it is a day to celebrate all the women who worked hard over the holidays. This means that men do most of the household duties while women spend time relaxing and enjoying themselves.
The Irish love to send Christmas cards to families and friends. However, this tradition is slowly being replaced by technology in these modern times. Back then, cards were often put on display over the mantelpiece. Some even put them up as decorations on their tree. This is why there was no shortage of cards back then.
Did you know that if you received a Christmas card featuring the three Wise Men, you will receive good luck? Also, the Irish prefer saying “Happy Christmas” instead of “Merry Christmas” back in the day.
12 Pubs of Christmas
Recent years saw a new tradition taking place in Ireland which is the 12 Pubs of Christmas. Basically, this is an extended version of a pub crawl. The goal here is to visit 12 pubs and have a drink in each one of them. Aside from that, the rules vary from one group to the next. This tradition has just become popular in the last decade or so.
Christmas is always a big day in Ireland with good reason. It’s a time when families gather around a heavily laden table and then head to mass after. This is also the time when children receive presents from Santa himself! There are plenty of fun traditions in Ireland that you can participate in. If you are looking for a different kind of Christmas then a trip here during the holidays is not a bad idea.