Irish Christmas Traditions - With a Twist

Ireland is famed for its traditions at Christmas and it’s a time when the country and people are at their best. Traditionally the weeks of celebration leading up to the big day always start on December 8th and the partying goes on well into the New Year in homes across the country.

Reunions of family and friends and music and food are - as always - likely to be front and center this year, right through to January 6th when Little Christmas is celebrated.

While times have changed worldwide with travel restrictions it has made old traditions become even more poignant and important.

Christmas Candle in the Window

Are You Welcome? Check the Window
Ireland is known worldwide for its welcomes and the sight of a candle in windows all over the country is a common one and a custom that has stayed alive through the generations.President Mary Robinson revived the tradition a number of years ago. It was traditionally a Catholic symbol welcoming the holy family, unlike the innkeeper in Bethlehem that is said to have turned them away. In modern times the light in the window has evolved as a welcome to guests or family members returning from far away and is traditionally lit by the youngest member of the family.

Christmas Day Swim in Ireland

Christmas Day Swim
The Christmas Day Swim has become a huge tradition in recent years in Ireland from the Irish sea on the East Coast to the Atlantic on the West Coast. During lockdown, sea swimming has hit new heights and this year is likely to see record numbers turning out. People flock to bathing spots and beaches all over the country but while it’s called a swim it usually involves no more than a five minute dip in the water followed by hot drinks afterwards.

Midnight Mass - but not at midnight!
In Ireland for the church going community there are many carol services and occasions over the Christmas period. One of the biggest is still on Christmas Eve when traditionally locals flock to the church and it’s a place for reunions and ‘Midnight Mass’ is held all over the country - the twist here is that it is not always at midnight - it’s now often at around 9pm. It’s a place to catch up with local community and friends.

A Celebration - for Women!
Traditionally in Ireland, the end of Christmas celebrations is on January 6th - the Epiphany. However the focus on this day is on women. It’s also known as Nollaig na mBan in Irish (Women’s Christmas). It’s when women are said to get the ‘day off’ and enjoy a day to themselves and men cook, take care of the house and take down the Christmas decorations. It stems from the time when women would traditionally have done a lot of the work over the Christmas period.  

The Wren - A link to another world!
The history of the Wren predates Christmas. While its origins are in Irish mythology where birds held great prominence and were believed to be a link between this world and the next the tradition is still strong in Ireland, especially in Dingle, County Kerry. The Wren (pronounced wran) takes place every year on 26th December, Saint Stephen’s Day. Wren boys (or girls!) dress up in old clothes, paint faces and wear straw hats traveling from house to house singing, dancing and playing music for the household. They chant: The wren the wren the kings of all birds, On Saint Stephen’s Day it was caught in the furze; Up with the kettle and down with the pan; Give me a penny to bury the wren.

Nollaig shona dhuit.
Posted on December 9, 2021

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