Christmas in Ireland

The greeting for ‘Happy Christmas’ in Irish is Nollaig Shona Duit or Nollaig Shona Daoibh (plural), the literal translation of this is ‘Happy Christmas to you’. If ‘Nollaig, Shona, Duit/Daoibh’ was literally translated, word for word, into English, it would be “Christmas, happy, to you”.

Christmas is also a time for remembering the dead in Ireland with prayers being offered for deceased at Masses. It is traditional to decorate graves at Christmas with a wreath made of holly and ivy.

In most homes in Ireland the traditional crib, along with the Christmas tree are part of a family’s decorations. Family and friends also give each other gifts at Christmas. The placing of a lighted candle in the window of a house on Christmas eve is still practised 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 a safe place for priests to perform mass as, during Penal Times this was not allowed.

Almost the entire workforce is finished by lunchtime on Christmas Eve or often a few days beforehand. Christmas Day and St Stephen’s Day are public holidays and many people do not return to work until the next week day after New Year’s Day. Many multinational companies and businesses close the day before Christmas Eve and re-open the day after New Year’s Day. Shop and public service workers usually return to work the day after St. Stephens Day and sometimes on St. Stephens Day if the Christmas sales have started.

The Late Late Toy Show is an annual edition of The Late Late Show aired on RTÉ One some weeks before Christmas and dedicated to the showcasing of that year’s most popular toys. It is regularly the most watched television programme of the year by Irish audiences, and is broadcast live, meaning anything can and has happened. The show, which consists of an adult-only studio audience dressed in traditional Christmas attire, does not accept advertisements which promote toys for its commercial breaks but, whilst new gadget-type toys regularly break down during the live show, being featured on the programme itself has been said to have a major boost to sales of a product over the following number of weeks in the build-up to the Christmas period.

Joe Duffy’s walk around Grafton Street, Dublin is an annual tradition broadcast by RTÉ Radio 1 on Christmas Eve.

RTÉ 2fm disc jockey Dave Fanning counts down his ‘Fanning’s Fab 50’ listeners music poll on air each year before Christmas.

From 2008, Christmas FM broadcast Christmas songs non-stop until 26 December.

On FM104, Santa visits the FM104 PhoneShow on their last broadcast before they go on their holidays (usually the 23rd or 22nd).

‘Fairytale of New York’ was voted the song most drivers wanted to listen to in the Republic of Ireland in 2009, with Happy Xmas (War Is Over)’ topping a similar poll cast in the north of Ireland. The Christmas music of singer Cliff Richard is most popular with those over the age of 55.

The Irish number one single for Christmas is announced on Christmas Eve every year.

Santa Claus, Daidí na Nollag (lit. Daddy of Christmas) in Irish and traditionally ‘Father Christmas’ in Irish English, is known in Ireland as Santy or Santa. He brings presents to children in Ireland, which are opened on Christmas morning. It is traditional to leave a mince-pie and a bottle or a glass of Guinness along with a carrot for Rudolph, although in recent years Guinness has been replaced with milk and mince pies with cookies due to Americanisation. Most big shopping centres and malls have a Santa’s grotto setup from late November so that shoppers and visitors with kids can visit Santa and tell him what they want for Christmas.

It is traditional to swim in the sea on Christmas morning. This is often done in aid of charity. The 40 Foot in Sandycove in Dublin is a traditional venue for this where hundreds brave the cold temperatures and jump into the sea.

The traditional Christmas dinner consists of turkey or goose and ham with a selection of vegetables and roast potatoes. In Cork and some surrounding areas, Spiced beef is traditionally eaten as part of the Christmas dinner. Dessert is very rich with a selection of Christmas pudding, (sometimes served with brandy being set alight and poured over it) Christmas cake, yule log and mince pies with equally rich sauces such as brandy butter.

On Christmas Eve fish is traditionally eaten as a form of fasting before Christmas.

Wren day is celebrated in various parts of Ireland on St Stephen’s Day (26 December) by dressing up in straw masks and colourful clothing and, accompanied by traditional céilí music bands, parading through towns and villages. Originally, a band of small boys known as Wrenboys hunted down a real wren, until they either caught it, or killed it. Once the bird was dead, the boys would carry it around the town on a pole decorated with ribbons, wreaths, and flowers The live bird is now replaced with a fake one that is hidden. The wren had, according to legend, earned this cruel punishment by betraying the hiding place of St. Stephen, the first martyr, by chattering on the bush where he was hiding. A betrayal which led to the saint being stoned to death. In reality the tradition almost certainly refers back to pagan times, long predating Christianity, and is related to the position of the wren as the king of birds in Celtic Mythology.

Christmas celebrations in Ireland are finished on Little Christmas (6 January), also known as ‘Women’s Christmas’ or Nollaig na mBan (the Feast of the Epiphany), and marks the official end of the Christmas season. Traditionally the men of the house take over for the day, preparing meals and allowing the women to have a rest.


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