Irish Christmas traditions usually begin on the first or second weekend of December with many families starting their own preparation for the festivities. Each family will have their own Christmas traditions but a lot of popular practices still remain today.
Traditions during Christmas in Ireland have been passed down through family generations but a more modern approach to the celebrations like the 12 Pubs of Christmas have gained popularity over the past few years.
Christmas traditions celebrated in Ireland
There are various ways the Irish celebrate Christmas but for most its about spending time with loved ones, gift giving, and enjoying good food such as traditional Christmas mince pies.
Most villages, towns and cities decorate the streets with holy symbols, lights and a large Christmas trees, usually located in the heart of the community. Churches build cribs to display the birth of Jesus and the arrival of the 3 Kings which is usually placed in front of the Church property.
Christmas decorations in the Irish home
Most, if not all, Irish families decorate their homes with lights, tinsel and baubles. A Christmas tree is usually erected in the family home on the first day of the holy advent calendar. The tree will be beautifully decorated with an angel on top, presents will lay underneath as seen with many family homes around the world.
In Old Ireland, so to speak, holly and ivy was used to decorate the Irish home before the Christmas tree was introduced. It was believed the more berries on the holly would mean better luck in the new year and today many families still tend to hang holly in their homes although the Christmas tree remains the main centre piece.
A large candle is placed in the front window of the family home, to symbolize guidance for Mary & Joseph before the birth of Christ. The symbolic candle is explained to the children but they are also told the candle helps Santa find his way to their home.
Many homes will place Christmas ornaments on the fireplace and tables so they are on display. Such ornaments consist of angels, elves, snowflakes, Santa’s and anything else that would represent Christmas. There is no special reason behind the display of Christmas ornaments, only that it helps with the atmosphere of such a special holiday.
Attending church at Christmas
With Ireland being considered as a country with strong ties to Christianity many families will attend church together on Christmas day. A Vigil Mass is usually held at Midnight and involves each member of the congregation lighting a holy candle that has been blessed by the bishop or high priest. Some churches will sing traditional Christmas carols such as The Wexford Carol during their midnight service.
Presents on Christmas morning
Probably the best time during Christmas for the kids is the morning, when they are allowed to open their new presents that arrived from Santa. It also seems to a big competition for Irish children to see who can wake up the earliest to see what gifts Santa has left under the Christmas tree.
The Irish Christmas dinner
The feast of Christmas is celebrated in Ireland with a large meal fit for a king. It is the biggest meal cooked in a family house-hold out of all meals through-out the year.
Preparations for Christmas dinner usually start on Christmas Eve with the slow cooking of the turkey and preparation of the vegetables and any other goodies that may come with the large feast. An Irish Christmas dinner may consist of turkey, ham, chicken, stuffing, potatoes, Brussels sprouts, vegetables and a brave attempt at a Christmas Pudding or even homemade Christmas mince pies.
In more modern times Children are given chocolate as a treat after their Christmas dinner that is called a Selection Box, a selection of Chocolate bars. Families are strict that everyone must eat their Christmas dinner before receiving their selection box with each member of the family sitting in front of the Television to watch some of the finest Christmas movies such as Darby O’Gill and the Little People, The Quiet Man, or even It’s a Wonderful Life.
St Stephen’s Day celebrations in Ireland
St. Stephen Day (also known as Boxing Day) is another important day celebrating Christmas traditions; it is the day after Christmas Day.
Most Irish families will treat St. Stephen’s Day as day of rest with a visit to their local church and also celebrate with another large meal. St Stephen’s Day may also bring relations to the house hold to join in on the Christmas celebrations.
First published on November 11, 2013 and last modified on August 14, 2018.