The Irish people celebrate Christmas with the same enthusiasm as people in the United States and the United Kingdom. The Christmas spirit in Ireland is so irresistible that even Grind couldn’t help, but be charmed by it. But they have many Christmas traditions, which are exclusive to them. The typical Christmas traditions in Ireland are passed down through generation, but are tweaked a bit to suit the modern day. So stay tuned to know more about Christmas traditions in Ireland.
Before proceeding, we’d like to tell you that Irish people have different names for various Christmas symbols. Christmas is called ‘Nollaig’, Saint Nicholas or Santa Claus is called ‘’San Nioclás’, Merry Christmas is said ‘Nollaig Shona Dhuit’ and father Christmas is ‘Daidí na Nollag’.
Christmas Traditions In Ireland
There are a plethora of ways Irish people celebrate Christmas, but most of all, it’s about spending time with near and dear ones, enjoying good food and giving gifts to each other. Christmas for Irish Catholic people begins on the Christmas Eve and lasts until the feast of Epiphany also called “Little Christmas”. The traditions associated with the holiday begins of the first or second of the week of December, starting with decorations.
Most of the towns, villages, and cities of Ireland are decorated with lights, holy symbols and a giant Christmas tree, located in the heart of the community. The shops have impressive window displays and streets are filled with lights. Churches and other religious institutions build cribs to display Jesus’s birth and the arrival of three wise kings in front of the Church property.
Almost all the houses decorate their houses with tinsel, lights, and baubles. Christmas trees are put up in the house on the very first day of the advent calendar. The tree is decked beautifully with ornaments, either homemade or readymade and topped with an angel tree topper. Parents even lay some gift boxes underneath the tree, especially for children. Before the introduction of Christmas trees, ivy and holly were used to decorate the house.
There’s also a practice of placing a holly ring on the front door. The practice started as holly is one of the main plants that flourish during winters in Ireland. This also gives the poor the opportunity to decorate their homes. It’s believed the more berries on the hollies, the better luck the new year will bring to the family.
One of the oldest Christmas traditions in Ireland pertaining to decoration is placing a tall and thick candle on the largest window still right after sunset on Christmas Eve. The candle represents the welcoming light for Mary and Joseph and is left to burn all night. It also symbolizes to the poor people that there is an offering of food in the house where the candle is burning. During the Penal Times, Irish Catholic priests were stopped to perform Mass. Hence the candle also acted as a signal that the owner of the house was a Catholic and the mass could be held on this premise.
All the Christmas decorations are usually taken down on the Little Christmas, which takes place on the 6th of January. Irish people believe that it would bring bad luck to remove Christmas decorations before the 6th of January
Right from the very first week of December, you can hardly walk any street or even shop in a shopping mall without encountering a group of Christmas carolers singing carols. The singers are sometimes dressed for the occasion, but more often, they are dressed in regular clothes, with just Santa caps on. People who enjoy their singing drop a couple of euros to their collectors.
The schools, churches, concert halls and theaters also hold Christmas carol concerts. The most popular of all the concerts is Carols by Candlelight held in Christmas Church Cathedral. Lord Mayor’s Christmas Concert in City Hall is also a favorite.
The Christmas eve usually begins with families attending church together. A vigil march is held at midnight, which involves each member of the congregation lighting a holy candle given by the high priest or bishop. Some churches even organize Christmas carol during the night.
The Laden Table:
Christmas dinner is the centerpiece of the Christmas holiday in Ireland. After the lavish meal, the kitchen table is set again, and milk and bread are placed on the table, adorned with a welcoming candle. If any wanderer is going through the house, they can avail the hospitality.
Irish Christmas Dinner:
An Irish Christmas feast is a meal fit for a king. Traditional Irish menu for Christmas includes a round cake filled with caraway seeds. Apart from this cake, a rich fruit cake covered with marzipan and decorated with icing is also common. In addition to the famous turkey, spiced beef is also served for Christmas dinner. This special dish is spiced over for several days, cooked and then served. Spiced beef can either be served hot or cold.
Christmas pudding is common in the whole of the United Kingdom, and Ireland is no different. The other items may include stuffing, Brussel sprouts, potatoes, and mince pies. The preparation for Christmas dinner usually starts on the Christmas Eve, but some people do preliminary preparations way before that.
These days, kids are also given Selection Box after the dinner, which is basically a selection of chocolate bars. Families ensure that the kids finish their dinner before receiving their selection box.
Christmas Day Swim:
Just head to either County Dublin or County Londonderry on the Christmas morning, and you’ll find hundreds of people taking a plunge into the sea to enjoy the spirit of Christmas. The Christmas Day swim takes place all across the Ireland coastline, with people taking a plunge, often for charity. Certainly not for faint-hearted.
Reading Of James Joyce’s “The Dead”:
Reading out of James Joyce’s “The Dead” is no less than a tradition with the Irish people. A group of Dubliners gathers together after Christmas to celebrate the transcendent tale of life and death, narrated beautifully by James Joyce. James Joyce’s “The Dead” can be considered an Irish version of “The Christmas Carol”, a story reflecting on our present and future.
Ugly Christmas Sweaters:
This tradition involves grandmothers, aunties, and relatives giving ugly and hideous Christmas sweaters as Christmas presents. But now, it has turned more into a competition carried out on the streets of Ireland. The uglier, woolier and hairier the sweater, the better. Some people even decorate their sweaters with bells, fake robins and even fairy lights.
The Boxing Day:
Just like England, Boxing day or St. Stephen’s Day is celebrated in Ireland as well because the tradition is a part of the United Kingdom. Apart from sending gifts to the employees, and football matches are also held on St. Stephen’s Day.
The horse race is also a highlight of St. Stephen’s Day as St. Stephen was the patron saint of the horses. The horse races, held in Leopards Town attracts over 20,000 people every year. People often take the race as a chance to get out of the house, stretch their legs and enjoy a couple of drinks with friends.
The pantomime, held in Olympia or Gaiety Theater was another favorite Christmas tradition in Ireland. Parents would take their children to these theaters every year so that they could live the years old tradition. However, kids today are more interested in going ice-skating or some adventure park rather than witnessing a play.
Wren Boys Procession:
Wren Boys procession is also commonly held on the Stephen’s Day. This tradition goes back to the time when a group of people killed a wren and carried it around in a holly bush. The procession still takes place, sans the wren hunting. Young men and women dress themselves up in homemade costumes and visit house to house carrying a long pole tied with a holly bush and singing a rhyme related to wren bird. The procession may even carry accordions, horns, violins, and harmonicas to make the singing sound even more pleasant.
Now you must be wondering why was wren bird hated so much by Irish people. Wren also called the ‘king of all birds’, is one of the smallest birds in the country, but has the loudest song. During the Penal times, the British soldiers were about to be ambushed when a group of wrens pecked on the drum, alarming the soldiers. When the plot failed, the Irish named wren as “the devil’s bird”. To commemorate this, the Irish people started the Wren Boys Procession.
Wrens were hunted throughout the Europe in the medieval times, but the practice has stopped now. Even the Wren Boys Procession is limited to just a few towns of Ireland, which include Dingle, located in the South West of Ireland.
You May Also Like To Read:
The Feast Of Epiphany:
The Feast of the Epiphany, celebrated on the 6th of January, is also fondly referred to as Women’s Christmas or ‘Nollaig na mBean’. Traditionally, the women were given a day off from the household work, and cooking and men took over. The women would gather at a friend’s home to sew and chat. Even this tradition has died out to a great extent, but in some regions, women still get together on the 6th of January to gossip and have tea and cakes.
We hope you enjoyed learning about Christmas traditions in Ireland. We’d be covering more of these article in the coming days. So stay tuned!