Christmas is fast approaching, so now is the time to start thinking about your festive break in Ireland.
Never been to Ireland for Christmas? Well, Ireland is no different from any other country when it comes to Christmas. We too have our own Christmas traditions, some more alive than others, some more believable than others! Read on to find out how we, Irish people, prepare to celebrate Christmas.
Candle in the window
It’s said that a house with a candle lighting on its window is a sign of welcome for Mary and Joseph.
The candle is supposed to be lit by the youngest child and the flame put out by a girl called Mary. Is this why the name Mary was so popular in the old days? It was also a sign that Priests were welcome to have mass in that house as masses were forbidden during Penal Times.
Traditionally, a candle was only lit in one window, but nowadays at Christmas, most houses have electric candles in all windows.
Holly grows wild in Ireland so it a very common decoration in Irish house over Christmas.
A berry filled holly wreath on the front door is a very popular decoration and is a tradition passed down through the years when long ago poor people would use it to decorate their homes.
The nativity crib, tinsel, baubles, bows and lights both inside and outside are also used to decorate homes.
Decorating the Christmas tree
This was a Pagan custom, which represented the various lunar objects important to them like the sun, moon and stars. The tradition of giving gifts also came from the Pagan era and is a huge part of Christmas today.
Christmas trees are decorated with tinsel and twinkling fairy lights, and while some people put an angel on top of the tree, others prefer a star.
Nowadays in Ireland, Christmas trees and decorations go up as early as the first week of December. In Ireland, it is thought to be bad luck to take Christmas decorations down before the 6th January.
Whitewashing the outhouses
The custom of white washing (painting) outhouses still goes on in some rural places in Ireland. This goes back to a time before Christianity when the entire farm inside and out, was scrubbed and polished in respect of the coming of baby Jesus.
Late on Christmas Eve, after everybody has gone to sleep, Santa visits the children of Ireland. While they are tucked up in bed, he leaves gifts under Christmas trees and fills Christmas stockings. In return, Santa gets a carrot for Rudolph, a mince pie and a bottle of Guinness!
Christmas cooking starts in the months before Christmas! Traditional Christmas fruit cakes, porter cakes and plum puddings are made, wrapped and stored. They are opened every now and again and some brandy or whiskey is poured on them to keep them moist.
The traditional Christmas dinner in Ireland consists of ham, stuffed turkey or roast goose, potatoes, vegetables and cranberry sauce. The usual appetizer is salmon or prawn cocktail while the desert is mainly plum pudding with brandy sauce or fresh cream, followed by Christmas cake or mince pies.
(Traditionally the pubs or shops don’t open at all on Christmas day. However, nowadays you will find the odd petrol station and shop open but they are few and far between).
Hunting the Wren (The Wran)
The Wren Boy Procession is another Christmas tradition in Ireland. It was at one time commonplace in towns all over Ireland, but nowadays you are most likely to see it in the south of Ireland, and Dingle in Co. Kerry is one town where this tradition is very much alive. It happens each year on the 26th of December (St. Stephen’s Day), when The Wren Boys march through the streets of the town dressed in straw, to the beat of drums and tin whistles. It is said that this tradition reigns from Pagan times, when the little wren was considered the ‘King of all Birds’. Originally the wren was hunted and killed and then paraded through the town on top of a pole, instead nowadays, the Wren Boys use this opportunity to collect money for charity.
And finally, don’t be shocked if you see people swimming in the icy cold water on Christmas Day – this has become an annual event at many locations all over the country, and it’s all in the name of charity.
If you know of any more traditions or customs in Ireland, feel free to add them to the list by leaving a comment in the box below. And remember if you’ve a question, don’t hesitate to ask and we’ll get back to you right away.
Keep an eye on our blog for more Christmas features!