Five Surprising Christmas Celtic and Irish Traditions

Celtic Ireland is all about traditions and customs. Many have been lost in time and are recorded but some still live on or have been modernised and changed to suit the times that we live in. Christmas is a time that Celtic traditions really have a place that's front and centre. 

Here are five surprising traditions that you may not realise have Celtic or historical origins but still live on in Ireland and internationally:


The Meaning of Mistletoe
The meaning of mistletoe, where you stand under it and steal a kiss, is well known and is a tradition that has lasted through the generations. Many people still grow or buy it and it pops up in people's houses as the season progresses. But what is the true meaning of mistletoe? It actually is said to come from the time of druids who prized it as a symbol of male fertility and to steal a kiss was all part of the fun. 

Yule Log

Yule Logs
Yule logs pop up everywhere at Christmas and are decorated on people's tables and there are now even chocolate versions all over the shops from early November. But the tradition steeps from early Celtic Ireland when yule logs were traditionally burned all night to honor the Mother Goddess during the long and cold nights of winter to keep everybody warm and add a bit of brightness.

Candle in the Window

A Light in the Window
While many people are familiar with the Light in the Window which was revived by President Mary Robinson in the window of Aras an Uachtarain as a sign to welcome all, including emigrants during the Christmas season, there is a more traditional background to the custom. The old custom was to light a candle to welcome strangers and to think of those who were far away from home. It was a guide and a sign that no stranger would go without and were welcome in.

The Kilmore Carols
This is a lesser known tradition and not Celtic but dating back over 300 years. There is a special set of Christmas carols that are specific to only one area in Ireland - County Wexford. There are thirteen Kilmore carols in all - one for Christmas night (The Darkest Midnight) and then one each for the twelve days of Christmas. There is often a performance of them in the area on New Year's Day. Unlike many of the more modern day carols these are more plaintive and are often sung unaccompanied.

Women's Christmas
Nollaig na mBan (Women's Christmas as translated from the Irish - Gaelic) lands on the Feast of the Epiphany on January 6th. It was considered unlucky to take down the Christmas decorations before this date. While an old fashioned notion as it was the day that women could 'rest' after all the duties of the season and 'women's work', it has had a revival in recent years and is a day that women celebrate themselves and often now go out to lunch or dinner or use it as a chance to catch up and celebrate themselves.  
Posted on December 20, 2023