In Ireland Christmas is an important festival and family holiday time with a mix of both traditional and modern customs revolving around food, celebrations and deep-rooted traditions. Christmas has always marked a time of celebration and get-togethers and a time to welcome returning family and friends back to Ireland for quality holiday time. There is a generous period of time off for offices and places of work with retail and public transport is also curtailed.
The first taste of Christmas begins as early as after Halloween when the retail outlets now capitalise on modern day phenomenas such as Black Friday and Cyber Monday etc. Ireland also has a longstanding tradition of ‘The Late Late Toy Show’ which is an annual, special edition of the Irish late-night chat show. It airs annually on the national TV station RTÉ One near the end of November to coincide with the holiday shopping season, by showcasing the popular toys of the year into a fun-filled family orientated show which also enables children to make their wish-lists for Santa, and as an official kick off to the Christmas season.
December 8th (the Feast of the Immaculate Conception) began as a religious holiday but has always taken on the role also of being a huge shopping day for Irish people. It was traditionally a day when rural Ireland descended on Dublin and other cities en masse, to do their Christmas shopping but obviously modern day online shopping has taken this over. You could say it was the original Irish Black Friday! As you know Irish people love to celebrate. And our Christmas celebrations always revolve around cooking, eating and alcohol! Christmas Eve is an important day for visiting and catching up with friends and getting the children to bed early for Santa arriving the next morning. It is traditional in Irish homes to set a candle in the front window on Christmas Eve. It is said to welcome weary travellers in search of a resting place, such as Mary and Joseph were in Bethlehem all those years ago. Christmas Day on December 25th is the main day of family celebration. Aside from the obvious attending Mass, eating, drinking and exchanging Christmas presents, Irish people celebrate Christmas Day in some surprising ways.
Irish people are renowned for their generous nature and celebrate the season of giving by also raising money for many charitable causes over Christmas. Getting a blast of cold winter air or icy sea water is a perfect way to appreciate your cosy fireside and your Christmas dinner. Many initiatives have sprung up for Christmas morning including fun runs like the GOAL mile that we actually host at MTU’s Athletics Track or sea swims along our coastal waters which have gained huge popularity over the last few years. We eat a lot of food over Christmas. Many dishes will be very traditional like ham and goose. Turkey, cranberry sauce and mince pies are traditions that we’ve inherited, adapted and continue to share.
Other Christmas foods such as spiced beef are unique to specific regions in Ireland which includes Cork and can be bought at local landmarks like the infamous ‘Old English Market’ in the city.
The day after Christmas Day is a public holiday in Ireland. In the Republic of Ireland, it’s known as St Stephen’s Day, after the first Catholic martyr.
In modern times, Irish people often spend December 26th relaxing. There’s no pressure to cook or entertain. It’s a day to go for a long walk with your family and an opportunity to work off some of that Christmas Day dinner! Some localities still hold the ‘Wren Boys’ parade which is an old pagan tradition held to celebrate an important tradition which dates back to Cromwellian times in honour of this little bird from the Irish countryside.
Finally, our traditional Gaelic greeting to you all from MTU –
‘Nollaig Shona daoibh go léir’
It simply means, Happy Christmas to you all!