In Ireland, Christmas celebrations take place with great pomp and show. It is the biggest celebration of the year and lasts from 24th December to 6th January. As the majority of the Irish population consists of Roman Catholics, the celebration has a religious touch in Ireland. This religious touch is explicit in all their celebrations, be it in decoration of Christmas tree, Christmas cards and celebration of Midnight mass and St. Stephen’s day. All the Irish towns are decorated with holy symbols and trees while churches display cribs to inform the arrival of Jesus Christ. Like all other countries of the world, Ireland also has its own set of Christmas traditions and customs, which are strictly followed by the people. Most of these traditions belong to the ancient Gaelic culture, which have survived into modern times. Moreover, gift traditions form an integral part of the Irish Christmas celebrations. To know more about the various Irish Christmas traditions, read on.
How to Celebrate An Irish Christmas
The Candle in the Window
On Christmas Eve, a lighted candle is placed in the window of each house. This practice is primarily a symbol of welcome extended towards Mary and Joseph, who traveled looking for shelter in the Biblical times. It also signifies a safe place for priests to perform mass, as during penal times this was restricted. In addition, the candle should be lit by the youngest member of the family and should only be extinguished by a girl with the name 'Mary'.
The Laden Table
After the evening meal on Christmas Eve, the kitchen table is once again set. The table is laid down with a loaf of bread filled with caraway seeds and raisins, a pitcher of milk and a large lit candle. The door to the house is left open symbolizing that Mary and Joseph or any wandering traveler is welcome.
The Wren Boy Procession
This is the procession, which takes place on St. Stephens's Day, wherein a pole with a holly bush is carried from house to house. The families dress up in old clothes and participate with blackened faces. In olden times, an actual wren was killed and placed on top of the pole. However, though this custom is not followed any more, the tradition of visiting people from house to house on St. Stephens Day is still prevalent on Christmas.
Christmas Tree, Holly, Tinsel
The origin of the Irish tradition of decorating a Christmas tree is dated back to pagan days. However, the custom has survived with little variation. Every Irish home and office put up a Christmas tree at the beginning of December till the 6th of January. There is also a recent tradition of decorating the houses with tinsel, fairy lights and festive ornaments. Although before 20th century, the custom was followed by shops, churches and the houses of gentry, ordinary houses have adopted the custom now. Decorating the houses using holly wreath was also a famous Irish tradition when their houses were decorated using freely available plants.
Irish Christmas Cards
The exchange of these festive cards is a popular tradition in Ireland. Earlier, family members staying far away used send letters and cards during the Christmas season. While the letters were sent to family members, cards were displayed in public. However, these Christmas cards have paved the way for big business cards and wishes cards which are exchanged between colleagues, friends, family members and neighbours. The practice of sending Christmas letters is also prevalent in Ireland.
Midnight mass is one of the most practiced Irish Christmas traditions. It is regarded as a social occasion in which those families, friends and neighbours who have not met for a year, meet each other. A religious occasion, midnight mass is also attended by enthusiastic people who would like to sing some carols and exchange Christmas greetings.
St. Stephen’s Day
St. Stephen’s is an important day of Irish Christmas. The day which falls after Christmas is considered as a rest day by most of the families. On this day, they visit their local church and celebrate the day with a delicious meal. St. Stephen’s day also witness the visit of relatives from faraway places to join the Christmas celebrations.
Feast Of Epiphany
The Feast of Epiphany which falls on the 6th of January is known as the women’s Christmas in Ireland. On this day, women are given a day’s rest as men in the family carry out all the household works like cleaning and cooking. Women take a holiday on this day and take it as a chance to visit neighbouring houses.
The best time for Irish during their Christmas celebrations is at the morning of Christmas. The Irish children eagerly wait for the day when they are allowed to open the presents which are gifted by Santa Claus. Among the Irish children, a big competition prevails to see who wakes up first or earliest to see their gifts.