Streets throughout Ireland are twinkling with Christmas lights. From Dublin’s bustling Grafton and Henry Streets to the main streets of tiny villages across the island, the Christmas spirit is bright. Lights shine in arches across the roads. Trees are festooned with garlands. Shop windows show off dazzling displays. Electric candles and signs pleading ‘Santa stop here’ glow in the front windows of red brick Victorian homes and country cottages alike.
Christmas in Ireland is absolutely magical, even when we get buckets of rain instead of snow.
Christmas in Ireland stretches out for more than a day. While Black Friday has managed to creep in here without Thanksgiving, the season has traditionally started on December 8th. That day is fondly known as “culchie shopping day”. It is the day that those in the country traditionally travelled to Dublin to do their Christmas shopping. While the spread of big name stores in small towns and the popularity of online shopping have made a dent in this tradition, it is still a day to avoid public transportation in and out of the capital.
Irish Christmas Traditions You Can Try at Home
While you can’t recreate an entire Irish village decked out for the holiday, you can embrace some Irish Christmas traditions no matter where in the world you live. You might need to modify them a bit, but people here have modified them over the years too. Which of these would your family enjoy?
- The Food – Food is central to all traditional celebrations. Christmas dinner in Ireland is not very different from a typical American Christmas dinner. The deserts, however, are. Instead of sugar cookies, we have mince pies. Don’t confuse this fruit mince with mincemeat! We also have rich, heavy Christmas pudding. This isn’t one you can create last minute, but if you start searching for recipes now, you can do it next year. Irish Christmas cake is a heavy fruit cake with a thick marzipan icing.
- Candles in the Window – Irish homes display a set of electric candles in the windows at Christmas. The candles symbolize welcome. We are saying that unlike the innkeepers of Bethlehem, we would welcome Mary and Joseph. They are also a sign of welcome for returning loved ones who have emigrated – and a sign of our sadness over those who cannot come home for Christmas.
- St Stephen’s Day – The holiday doesn’t end after Christmas! December 26th is St Stephen’s Day. Today the traditional hunting of an actual wren bird has been replaced by groups in traditional costumes going from pub to pub collecting for charities.
- Nollaig na mBan – It’s still not over! While many of us are back to work on January 2nd, Christmas isn’t really over until Epiphany on January 6th. This is also celebrated here as Nollaig na mBan, Women’s Christmas. This one is very easy to enjoy in any culture or climate. The women of the family get a day off all household chores to meet up with friends and enjoy a day out. Children also give their mothers small gifts.
Would your family enjoy adding a bit of Ireland to your Christmas celebrations? Which of these would you like to try?