Published on November 30, 2011 | by Elena


What are Christmas traditions about in Ireland?

Ireland’s Christmas traditions are not dissimilar to those found in many other western countries – shopping, gifts, food, lights and magic! However, just like everything else, the Irish do things somewhat different!

The Irish are catholics, so Christmas day is especially a religious feast, followed by eleven days of celebrations and rituals, until the day of the Epiphany. These days are commonly known as the Twelve Days of Christmas, which are represented in the homonymous Christmas carol, said to be a vestige from the time when Catholicism was illegal in Ireland. The gifts listed in the song are hidden references to Catholic dogma.

However, some of the most important customs, actually precede Christmas day; so here’s a listing of the most important Christmas traditions in Ireland, which in the end, including that of the Twelve Days of Christmas carol, turn out to be exactly 12!

Irish Christmas categorically begins with a strict and thorough housecleaning. Something very similar to our spring cleaning.

In Dublin, the traditions of Christmas involve the lighting of the Christmas lights on O’Connell Street, Henry Street and Grafton Street. Throughout Ireland, all the shops are richly decorated starting from October and many Christmas trees and Cribs are also erected, in churches, town centres and shopping malls.

Decorating the outside of houses, is a relatively recent tradition, but becoming always more common. The use of Holly as ornament is peculiar to Ireland, as this plant blooms during the Christmas season and could be used even by the poorest families.

The 8th of December, is the usual date for putting up and decorating the Christmas tree, and most people also have at least a small crib in their houses.

One old custom that many continue to observe is the placing of a candle in the window on Christmas Eve, a sign of welcome to passers by. The candle is another way of saying there is room at the inn for Mary and Joseph. Some people even set an extra place at Christmas dinner for strangers.

On Christmas Eve, many children hang stockings or pillowcases at the foot of their beds for Santa – or Father Christmas, in some areas of Ireland – to fill with gifts. According to tradition, on Christmas morning, when children rummage in the socks, they find an apple on the tip and an orange on the heel.

In so doing, we enter the depths of the 12 days of Christmas. One long standing tradition in Sandycove, a suburb of South Dublin, is the Christmas Day Swim – in the sea. Yes, in Ireland, in full December.

On Boxing Day, St. Stephen day, gifts are traditionally offered to the milkman, the roadsweeper and the postman. Moreover, fun performances inspired by fairytales are often staged and football games and horse races take place. St. Stephen’s Day, the day after Christmas, is also the day when the Wren Boys come out, mostly in the South of Ireland but also in certain localities elsewhere.

Then New Year comes, and in some parts of Ireland, all the doors are kept open at midnight to let the new year come in and people traditionally make noise in their homes with the aim of driving out evil spirits during the transition from the old year to the new one.

Finally, the 6th of January marks the official end of the Christmas season. Traditionally the men take over for the day, preparing meals and allowing the women to have a rest. This is Little Christmas, also known as “Women’s Christmas.”

All decorations are removed on January 6th: removing them earlier is thought to bring bad luck! Life slowly returns to normal and homes seem awfully empty!

Photo by infomatique

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About the Author

Hey there! My name is Elena and I live in Pavia, where I work as a freelance journalist and Events Coordinator. My personal interests are culture, languages and art. I love travelling and learning about foreign cultures and different lifestyles, and then I like to share my experiences with others writing articles for this blog. My passions drive me forward to live the life of my dreams, and well that’s what I am really good at!

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