Ireland’s Christmas traditions are not dissimilar to those discovered in numerous other parts of the world– there is great deals of shopping, gifts are exchanged, people consume excessive and Santa Claus is the main man for the majority of kids!
These are a few of the most extensively practiced traditions surrounding an Irish Christmas, though obviously every family will have their own traditions and will celebrate the festive season in their own method.
In the main image above Christmas lights define ‘Nollaig Shona Duit’ or ‘Pleased Christmas’ in Irish– promounced something like ‘nullag hona gwit’.
Photo by MmMmMmMatt
A Light in the Window
Christmas Candle by Fergal of Claddagh One old custom-made that lots of continue to observe is the placement of a candle light in the window on Christmas Eve, a symbol to welcome complete strangers and to keep in mind those who are far from house. I am not entirely sure how well strangers dropping by for a go to would really be welcomed were they to take the sign literally!
But the little lights shining in windows does provide a warm and inviting feel when strolling through a town.
Decorating the House
Houses are decorated with natural product such as holly, pine cones and ivy but also glass, wooden or plastic ornaments. Many people position a natural holly wreath on their front doors. Many people will have at least a small crib in your home, with the infant Jesus only placed into the manger on Christmas early morning.
Christmas trees for sale in Galway by boocal Natural Christmas trees, normally Noble Fir, are without a doubt the most popular choice, though phony ones are used. Getting the tree is itself a little bit of a custom, with families having a preferred kind of tree and typically all fitting to selected the best specimen. Trees are often bought direct from the growers– in many cases you even get to go out in the woods to pick– but more often from momentary stores set up on vacant lots or by the side of the street in the weeks leading up to Christmas.
Trees are embellished with lights and ornaments, generally the very same ones every year, though some design conscious individuals create (or purchase) an entire makeover for their tree annually.
The 8th of December, or around that time, is the usual date for putting up and embellishing the tree.
Decorating Public Places
Crib in Dublin city centre by infomatique Town centre designs are erected and lights kipped down late November or early December– it seems to get even earlier with each passing year.
Streets are filled with lights, stores contend to have the most impressive window display and big trees go up in the area squares and shopping center. Cribs are likewise erected, some almost life size, in churches, town centres and in shopping center.
Decorating the outside of houses was a rarity up until the turn of this century however has become more typical, with some people putting on quite extravagant screens of lights.
From about the very first week in December you can hardly stroll up a street or get in a shopping center in any corner of Ireland without experiencing a group of singers belting out Christmas Carols, with differing degrees of ability! Usually the mood is good however, vocalists are typically dressed for the occasion and they are singing their hearts out for a great cause, so if you are delighting in the entertainment do drop a number of euro to the collectors.
Basically every theatre, concert hall, church and school have Christmas carol shows too. Amongst the most popular in Dublin are the Carols by Candlelight performances at Christ Church Cathedral, while in Cork the Lord Mayor’s Christmas Concert in City Hall is a perennial favourite.
The Christmas Swim!
Christmas Swim at Sandycove by fyunkie There are some intrepid individuals who go out in the open air and far from all the excess on Christmas morning, though it can be fairly unpleasant out there at that time of year.
One long standing tradition in Sandycove, a suburban area of South Dublin is the Christmas Day Swim– in the sea. Yes, in Ireland, in December, they swim in the freezing Irish sea– and let me inform you it is MUCH cooler even that it searches in the image! Crazy, however they state it’s enjoyable!
The Wren Boys
St Stephen’s Day, the day after Christmas, is the day when the Wren Boys come out, mostly in the South of Ireland but likewise in particular areas in other places.
“Hunting the Wren”is an ancient routine– in its initial form a wren was hunted, killed and held on a holly bush. The wren had, according to legend, made this vicious penalty by betraying the hiding location of St Stephen, the very first martyr, by chattering on the bush where he was concealing. A betrayal which resulted in the saint being stoned to death.In truth the custom probably refers back to pagan times, long preceding Christianity, and relates to the position of the wren as the king of birds in Celtic Mythology.
This position was supposedly made when in a contest the small wren flew higher than any other bird, a feat managed by the smart wren hitching a ride on an Eagle’s back, and then releasing itself and flying high when the Eagle ended up being exhausted and started to go back to land.
Nowadays no birds are killed, rather those taken part in the hunt, the so called ‘wren boys’, dress in straw fits or other costumes (not unlike Halloween outfits) and march through the streets, calling into clubs, house and even regional hospitals while beating drums and playing whistles, singing and duplicating the rhyme listed below while requesting for “a penny for the wren”.
“The wren, the wren, the king of all birds,
On St. Stephen’s Day was captured in the furze,
Although he is little, his household is terrific,
I pray you, good landlady, offer us a reward.”
(In many parts of Ireland the word ‘treat’ is noticable to rhyme with ‘terrific’!)
The result is somewhere in between turmoil and mayhem, as the video below, from the Wren Day in Dingle, reveals.
The ‘cents’ collected remained in the past utilized to money a big celebration for the wren boys in a regional hostelry, where much alcohol was gladly taken in. This, along with its likely pagan origins, made the custom really undesirable with the clergy, and their displeasure, together with mass emigration, was instrumental in the tradition nearly passing away out in the mid 20th century. It has actually been restored now though, and given that the money collected now goes to local charities, the clergy are a lot more supportive.
Likewise referred to as ‘Women’s Christmas’ or Nollaig na mBan this falls on the 6th of January (the Banquet of the Epiphany), and marks the main end of the Christmas season. Typically the males of your home take control of for the day, preparing meals and enabling the females to have a rest. This custom has died out a little– personally I am ALL about bringing it back!
Little Christmas is likewise the day when the tree and all the Christmas decors are taken down and put into storage