Christmas traditions like most things have evolved over the years with the traditions of one generation differing from those of another generation. This is particularly the case when it comes toIreland, as modernIrelandis now home to many different nationalities, religions and cultures which are all now helping to create new Christmas traditions. Despite this however, there are some traditions that continue to survive generation after generation, though some of them may have changed slightly over the years.
Lighted Candle in Window:Tradition saw one candle being placed in the front window of every house on Christmas Eve. It should be lit by the youngest member of the family and only blown out by someone called Mary.
The lit candle served as a welcome to Mary and Joseph who sought shelter on Christmas Eve and extends hospitality to any weary travellers that the house is open to anyone who needs shelter. This is still one of the most widely followed traditions in Ireland today, though it is now common to see lights in all windows of a house and they tend to be electronic lights rather than normal candles.
Midnight Mass: TraditionallyIrelandis a largely catholic country, therefore mass has always been a big part of Irish culture. And while this is changing as the years pass, it is still an important part of Irish culture. As a result Midnight mass on Christmas Eve is one of the most important aspects of Christmas. It is a huge social gathering where family, friends and neighbours who may not have seen each other all year can come together, catch up and experience the magical experience of Midnight mass, singing carols and playing music. Churches are all decorated with holly, candles, Christmas tree with lights and of course the obligatory life-size crib. All this combined with dimed lights and a church packed full of people all in a festive mood, singing carols results in a truly un-miss-able experience. It is something which everyone should experience if they get a chance. It’s no wonder many non-religious people attend Midnight mass every year, as they want to be part of the atmosphere and occasion with their neighbours and friends. Though it should be noted, that in many places mass is not actually held at Midnight as this is deemed too late for young children who need to be home in bed eagerly awaiting the visit of Santa Claus. So it could actually be on at 9, 10 or 11pm.
The Crib: In churches a life-size crib is often the main attraction. But most homes also have their own miniature crib. Tradition would see the crib set up before Christmas with the addition of Baby Jesus to the crib only on Christmas Eve.
Decorations: Traditionally Christmas decorations are put up on the 8th December (Feast of the Immaculate Conception) and taken down on the 6th January (Little Christmas). It is believed to be bad luck to take down your decorations before the 6th.
Traditional Irish Christmas decorations involved making a wreath out of holly and hanging on the front door of houses. This is because holly could be found in plentiful supply throughout the Irish countryside and the green leaves and red berries made the perfect decoration. In fact the custom of hanging wreaths on front doors inNorth Americacan be traced back to the early Irish settlers that moved there during the Potato Famine.
Pre 20th Century, Christmas trees were only found in Churches, shops and big estate houses. However thankfully this all changed and now everyone and everywhere has Christmas trees, though the type of tree has changed with real trees now replaced by fake ones. And gone are the days of home made decorations and tinsel, now its lights and baubles all the way.
And decorations don’t stop at the tree,Irelandhas now caught up with theUSAand you will find houses covered with flashing lights throughout the countryside.
The Big Clean Up: Advent which is the four weeks leading up to Christmas was traditionally the big clean up time and involved getting the house ready for Christmas. This included whitewashing the walls, painting and scrubbing the interiors. And while this is no longer practised in a way it is still followed in that most people tend to give their homes a big clean in preparation for putting up their decorations and getting the house ready for visitors at Christmas.
Food: Food is probably the most important component of Christmas inIreland, especially Christmas Day dinner. It involves days of shopping and preparation, not to mention hours of cooking. But it’s all worth it in the end, even though we generally cannot move for the rest of the day once we’ve eaten. The traditional Irish Christmas Day dinner typically features turkey, ham, roast and boiled potatoes, brussel sprouts, carrots, parsnips and stuffing with additions such as cranberry sauce and gravy. Then it’s on to dessert which can be Christmas cake, Christmas pudding and Mince Pies with either custard or cream. And if that’s not enough there’s always the other obligatory Christmas fare such as the tins of assorted biscuits, boxes of chocolates and selection boxes.
Santa Claus/Father Christmas: Santa Claus as his most commonly known here delivers presents to all the children on Christmas Eve, he places them under the tree to be opened on Christmas Morning. Children usually leave some food and drink out for Santa and his reindeers such as a slice of Christmas cake or mince pie, a glass of milk or sometimes something a little stronger such as a beer, or drop of whisky (only a drop mind as we wouldn’t want Santa getting drunk when he has to travel around the world!) and of course a carrot for Rudolph.
Christmas Cards: The early 20th Century saw the beginning of the tradition of sending Christmas Cards to friends and relatives in the mail. This was probably enhanced by the fact that so many Irish emigrated and were unable to return home to their families for Christmas so cards became an essential way of sending Christmas wishes to loved ones. They were often accompanied by a letter with all the news and gossip. But with the popularity of e-cards increasing it will be interesting to see how long this lovely tradition of sending cards by mail will continue! I for one hope this tradition is one that remains for many more Christmases to come.
I am sure that every family probably has traditions that they continue to follow year after year that are unique to them, as Christmas Traditions are as much about individual families as entire countries. I asked a number of my colleagues about their unique family traditions and they came up with some interesting ones. One colleague came from a rural parish in the West of Ireland where they used to have Mass at 6am Christmas Day Morning instead of Midnight Mass. And though it was more a New Year tradition rather than a Christmas one, My Boss also told me about a tradition his Mother would follow in the shop, whereby you had to serve a Man first when you reopened the shop in the New Year. It was considered bad luck for your first customer to be a Woman so even if a Woman came into the store first, you would have to ask her to wait until a Man came in and you could serve him first. Not sure that tradition would go down too well in today’s society!
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