Do you ever dream of spending Christmas in Ireland, not in a hotel but with family having a really traditional Irish Christmas? Maybe the details are a bit hazy. What exactly would you be doing? Remember, unlike the some places where Christmas is only one day, in Ireland it is really three – Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and St. Stephen’s Day. (If you really want to do it like a native, pronounce that Stephens’s Day. No one knows why.) And don’t worry – normal life is not waiting to spring on December 27th. It really takes until January 6th for the season to end and normalcy (or what passes for it) to return.
Well, obviously there are no rules and every family is different, but if you were in Dublin this would be a pretty standard Christmas agenda.
Christmas Eve: You might be frantically dashing down Grafton Street or Henry Street dodging buskers and carol singers while you search for those last couple of perfect gifts, maybe some gold earrings or a Celtic pendant. The streets would be especially crowded because most office workers would be off work. Some might have had to work on Monday the 22nd, but many would have finished up the Friday before Christmas. Later, you might go along to a midnight mass carol service, but be sure to check the time. Depending on where you go, it is not very likely to be as late as midnight! Generally, they are early enough for small children to attend. Expect to see a lot of large boxes of chocolate and tins of biscuits – that’s cookies to you – being exchanged between households.
Christmas Day: Some things would be familiar, and Christmas morning is one of them – especially if there are children around! Expect the same extra early wake-up call. In some families, Santa leaves presents and fills stockings at the foot of children’s beds while in other homes, he leaves them under the tree in the sitting room. After the presents are opened, you might go check out the Forty Foot, a beach in south Dublin. If you are really brave, you might join the people diving into the ocean – or you might watch from a safe distance with a hot cup of tea. Of course, the Christmas dinner is a major highlight. What’s on the menu? Roast turkey, ham, mashed potato and roasted potato, Brussel sprouts, roasted carrots and parsnips, stuffing (which will be referred to as dressing) and maybe cranberry sauce. After dinner, it’s time to tuck into the Christmas pudding and/ or Christmas cake! But before you start on the pudding, don’t forget to add some custard or brandy sauce topping.
Stephen’s Day: It isn’t over yet! And it isn’t Boxing Day here. This tradition goes back to an incident where a wren ruined an attempted attack on British soldiers by pecking on a drum. So maybe the Irish tend to hold grudges… we have stopped killing actual wrens on this day but instead hunt the wren in more creative ways. If you head out of the city and stop by a rural pub, you are likely to encounter some wren boys, men in costume entertaining with songs and verses and generally raising money for charities. It is also a popular day to visit family and friends and take care of all those left over goodies. Turkey and ham sandwiches with chocolates and biscuits are washed down with lashings of tea.
So how would you enjoy a Christmas in Ireland? Will you try any of these traditions at your home this year?