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Learn the fascinating history of Irish Christmas traditions!
Christmas in Ireland
Christmas is the most important time of the year for Irish families. Unlike in the USA and Canada, in Ireland, we don’t celebrate Thanksgiving. So, for us, Christmas is the time of the year when families and loved ones make sure that they spend time together. We have many Irish Christmas Traditions that help us to mark the holiday season and remind us of the true meaning of Christmas.
Today there are Irish, and people of Irish descent, living all over the world. Bringing these Irish traditions into your Christmas celebrations is a lovely way to reconnect with your Irish roots, no matter where you are spending the holiday season.
Candles are an important part of a traditional Irish Christmas.
Champ is a traditional Irish potato dish that can be served any time of the year. Delicious with a knob of butter melting over the top!
Traditional Food for an Irish Christmas
Here are some ideas for creating an Irish Christmas table (links to recipes are on the side):
- Don’t have turkey. Although most Irish families now have turkey for their Christmas dinner, it is a custom we have imported from the USA in the twentieth century. Goose or ham would be a more traditional choice for your Christmas roast.
- Do have champ. Serve your potatoes as ‘champ.’ Champ is a form of mashed potatoes which is unique to Ireland. Add a handful of chopped scallions (spring onions) to a large bowl of mashed potato. Serve with a large knob of butter melting over the top. Delicious!
- Bring on the cabbage and bacon. For greens, try cabbage with a little bacon. Boil or steam some cabbage, fry a little chopped bacon in a separate pan, and then add the two together. Sauté for a couple of minutes and serve.
- Make whiskey Christmas cake. It makes a truly Irish winter desert. Whiskey cake can last for months, so this is one part of your dinner you can prepare well in advance! Give this recipe a try.
- Make barmbrack. This bread is a delicious, warming snack to serve at any time of day. Barmbrack is a traditional Irish currant loaf, slightly sweet and served toasted with butter—and a cup of tea alongside.
Barmbrack is a sweet Irish bread, and makes a great Christmas treat.
Make an Irish Whiskey Christmas Cake—Fun!
Irish Christmas Customs
- Advent wreath: Growing up in Ireland, an advent wreath was an important part of Catholic preparation for Christmas. The wreath is made of greenery twisted in a circle with four candles set equidistant. A candle is lit at the beginning of each of the four weeks of advent until all four candles are lit in the final week before Christmas.
- Candle in the window: It is traditional in Irish homes to set a candle in the front window on Christmas Eve. It is said to welcome weary travelers in search of a resting place, such as Mary and Joseph were in Bethlehem all those years ago.
- Midnight mass: Nothing reminds me of Christmas in Ireland like attending midnight mass. The crisp cold sky above, the bright lights of the church welcoming you in. There are many Irish carols and hymns which are traditional at Christmas time. I’ve included an Irish Christmas song in Gaelic below.
- Toast: Finally, you can toast the arrival of the Christmas season with the traditional Gaelic greeting;’ Nollaig Shona Duit!‘ (pronounced no-leg hun-na ditch). It means simply, Happy Christmas to you!
Gaelic Christmas Song
An orange-clove pomander is a traditional decoration in Irish homes at Christmas time.
Irish Christmas Ornaments and Decorations
Traditional Irish decorations you can make at home include decorating an orange pomander with cloves, decorating your house with evergreens such as holly and mistletoe, and placing candles in your windows and hearth.
If you want ideas for buying Irish Christmas decorations online, look for Celtic knot-work designs, celtic crosses and Irish symbols such as the shamrock and the harp. There are lots of good websites where you can buy Christmas decorations with an Irish theme, including Amazon.
Maura Callahan, on February 15, 2020:
From Cork, we had Goose, Ham and spiced Beef, the fruit Cake was made weeks earlier, andthey would poke holes all over the Cake each week, and put Whiskey, or Brandy in it and rewrap it tightly, in my day, there was no Christmas Trees yet! traditionally it was Holly with red Berries, a sprig on all the Pictures on the wall!, a man used to go around , knocking on doors, offering to spray the holly in silver paint, for a fee, some people liked it , if they could afford it, they did it.. tinsel streamers and tinsel bells hung from the ceiling across the whole room . I left for the U.S in1953, its all so different today of course,.
Karen on November 28, 2018:
This is the cutest variety of fun, basic traditions. Will do them all, definitely the cake, hee hee, and learn the Gaelic greeting. Thanks much!!!
alex on December 09, 2016:
this website helped me alot
Marie McKeown (author) from Ireland on July 09, 2012:
Glad you enjoyed the hub. Enjoy the cooking!
John Connor from Altamonte Springs on July 09, 2012:
Thank you for such an enlightning hub! My better-half will love this and will indeed make it somewhat operational; thus, I will benefit directly mostly through taste and olfactory yet the “big picture” will be general happiness…
Bonny OBrien from Troy, N.Y. on December 20, 2011:
Really enjoyed your hub, and the music was beautiful! I never make Turkey on Christmas, pretty much a nice ham.
charfaris on December 14, 2011:
Thank you for this. I am of Irish decent but know nothing of my ancestry before they left Ireland and Scotland. I am very grateful for this. Have a merry Christmas.
Marie McKeown (author) from Ireland on November 07, 2011:
Thanks, Mathair – I hope you have a great Christmas season!
mathair from Ireland on November 07, 2011:
I really enjoyed your Hub. It got me in the mood to start planning. My Grandmother cooked a goose every year and I always make those orange and clove scenters. It is still possible to find free range goose in the West of Ireland so long as you are willing to pluck it yourself!
Marie McKeown (author) from Ireland on November 07, 2011:
Goose used to be traditional, I think, but that was decades ago now…. but do know one or two families who have goose, so it must be possible to find it somewhere in Ireland!
Slightly Bonkers from Ireland on November 07, 2011:
Great hub. Turkey and ham is indeed THE christmas dinner nationwide. When I came to Ireland 6 years ago and asked around that time for a goose at the butchers… they looked at me funny.
But being German, a goose (or a duck) is what we would have on Christmas. The fact aside that we celebrate Christmas Eve at the 24th but that is a different story 🙂
Marie McKeown (author) from Ireland on November 06, 2011:
Glad you guys have enjoyed the hub. I hope you have a lovely winter holiday season!
Julie Grimes from Columbia, MO USA on November 05, 2011:
I love the hub! Great traditional ideas that I can’t wait to try.
islandnurse from Vancouver Island, Canada on November 05, 2011:
I have good friends who are Irish and I will pass this on, thank you so much for the recipes too! I have bookmarked this hub, and will be a follower too:)