Christmas really brings out the best in Ireland and the Irish from cheerful festivities to wild acts of machismo, happy reunions, musical celebrations, and partying with friends and family. In Ireland Christmas lasts for about two weeks and is gladly celebrated as a respite from the winter. We have listed a few of Ireland’s favorite things at Christmas, some old, some new, but all are activities and aspects that make Christmas in Ireland particularly special. Try some of these Christmas customs as you celebrate Christmas this year.
The Candle in The Window
The placing of a lighted candle in the window of a house on Christmas Eve is still done today. It has a number of purposes but primarily it was a symbol of welcome to Mary and Joseph as they travelled looking for shelter. The candle also indicated as a safe place for priests to perform mass because during Penal Times this was not allowed. Another element of the tradition is that the candle should be lit by the youngest member of the household and only be extinguished by a girl bearing the name ‘Mary.’
Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve
If you’re looking for a church packed to the rafters then look no further than any church in Ireland at midnight mass on Christmas Eve even today. With Christmas carols being sung and often live music at midnight mass in Ireland it is a great place to catch up with old friends and get in touch with the local community.
The placing of a ring of holly on doors originated in Ireland as holly was one of the main plants that flourished at Christmas time and which gave the poor ample means with which to decorate their cottage. All decorations are traditionally taken down on “Little Christmas” (January 6th) and it is considered to be bad luck to take them down beforehand.
The Wren Boy Procession on St. Stephens Day
It was during Penal Times that there was a plot in a village against the local soldiers who were surrounded and about to be ambushed when a flock of wrens pecked on the soldiers drums waking them and warning them. From that time the wren became known as “The Devil’s Bird.” Forever after to remember this on St. Stephen”s Day young boys would have a procession and go door to door wearing old clothes, with blackened faces and hanging a dead wren on top of a pole with a holly branch. They would knock on the doors demanding coins which would be said to be given to charity. This tradition is carried on still mostly in the midlands and the west of Ireland. In all of Ireland though the St. Stephens Day tradition of visiting from house to house has survived and is very much a part of Christmas.
Horse Races on St. Stephen’s Day
St. Stephen is the patron saint of horses but I am almost positive that this is not the reason that the horse races in Ireland on St. Stephen’s Day have become a tradition in Ireland. The races in Leopardstown, South Dublin, attract thousands every year. In Ireland heading off to the races is a chance to get out of the house, stretch your legs and have a drink with your friends.
Christmas Day Swim at Forty Foot Rock in South Dublin
Christmas Day swims take place all over Ireland on Christmas morning but probably most famously at the Forty Foot Rock, just south of Dublin. On Christmas literally hundreds of people can be seen jumping off the rock into the Irish Sea wearing only their bathing suits and a smile. The water in the Irish Sea on Christmas Day is usually around 50F/10C. Unfortunately the temperature outside the water is usually about half of this making the experience bracing to say the least. While this is not for the faint of heart it is a proven hangover cure and participants often receive sponsorship for charities.
Reading James Joyce’s Story, “The Dead”
“The Dead: is a short story from James Joyce’s collection “Dubliners.” The story tells the tale of a group of Dubliners gathering together for a Christmas celebration in James Joyce’s transcendent tale of the banality and the magic in life and death. This tale has rather become like an Irish version of “The Christmas Carol,” a tale of reflection on our past, our present and future.