A Very Irish Christmas: A List of The Best Irish Christmas Traditions

As you turn on your favourite Christmas songs playlist and choose the perfect ugly Christmas sweater to wear on the day, have a look at this post about seasonal Irish Traditions. You will see that the Irish surely know how to prepare for Christmas…

Grafton street during Christmas in Dublin

From the festive lights, to the enormous trees and the wonderfully decorated shop windows on busy shopping streets, like Grafton Street and Henry Street, you can’t help but feel the Christmas spirit all around Dublin, as well as many other cities on the lovely Emerald Isle.

This is thanks to the local Christmas traditions, which are honoured all around the country and contribute to create the familiar, joyful atmosphere we wait the whole year for!

However, there might be some traditions which you would only be able to notice if you have the chance to meet an authentic Irish family and spend some time with them, or maybe if you plan on organising your next holiday here in Dublin, where you can meet new friends…..and possibly, have the chance to improve your English with us here at Atlas 😉

Here you can find a list of our favourite Irish Christmas traditions. Have a read, and feel free to leave a comment to let us know if you know of some other ones! Happy Holiday season and Happy reading!

Irish Christmas market in Dublin

The famous ones…

1. Decorating the house

This is a classic one. No family will be found unprepared during the Christmas holidays. The decorations are usually hung inside and outside Irish houses, a few weeks before Christmas Eve, and the trees are sometimes bought directly from the growers – in some cases you even get to go out in the woods to choose one – but more often from temporary shops set up by the side of the street.

2. Decorating public places

As you take a stroll along places such as Grafton Street, one of the busiest shopping streets in Europe, you will certainly be struck by the creativity of some shop decorations. The windows are beautifully adorned by trees and colorful packages, as well as more lights than you can imagine! A good example of this yearly practice is the luxury shop Brown Thomas (used to be Switzers’), that has kept alive this tradition for decades!

3. Christmas carols

You might have seen this happen only in Christmas themed movies, but it is an actual practice which has been cheering up many-a-winter nights for families and friends, as well as charity groups and religious communities. They all meet up and sing famous Christmas songs for passants and bystanders to enjoy, sometimes receiving small offers as payment – depending on their singing skills!

House decorated for Christmas

Brown Thomas store Christmas decorations in Grafton Street in Dublin

The old ones…

1. The Laden table

The centre-piece of the Christmas holiday in Ireland is the Christmas Dinner. In the old times, after the often lavish meal, the kitchen table was again set and on it was placed some bread and milk and the table adorned with a welcoming candle. If Mary and Joseph, or any wandering traveller, happened by then they could avail of the hospitality.

2. A candle in the window

A tradition that was very widespread in the 1970’s but which seems to be dying out nowadays, especially in urban areas, is the ‘candle in the window’. Symbolically, the candle represented a welcome to Joseph and Mary as they wandered in search of lodgings. The candle indicated to strangers and especially to the poor that there may be an offering of food in the house within.

3. Little Christmas or Women’s Christmas

Also known as ‘Women’s Christmas’ or Nollaig na mBan: this falls on the 6th of January (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. This is also the day on which all the Christmas decorations are removed.

Irish Christmas Festivity- Little Christmas

And the funny ones…

1. The Wren boy procession

This procession has its origins from both the pagan and catholic roots of Ireland. The wren was initially considered the king of the birds from the pagans, but was later referred to as “the devil’s bird” from the catholics. It is said to have betrayed the first martyr, St Stephen, and for this reason during ancient times, on St Stephen’s Day, a wren was hunted and killed. Nowadays, the tradition is quite less brutal: inhabitants of rural parts of Ireland are often seen parading, dressed in a way that resembles the bird (often just straw suits), celebrating its death to honour the saint on his name’s day: December 27th.

2. Guinness and mince pies for Santy

We have all heard of leaving milk and cookies for Santa Claus to enjoy during his one night of worldwide travels, but here in Ireland things are done quite differently and Santy likes to indulge in some more hefty treats: a pint of Guinness and some traditional little tarts filled with candied fruit and spices, known as mince pies. And the old man is ready to jump back on the sleigh! (Just hold back on the pints, Santy!)

3. The Christmas swim

Ahh, the Irish. Sometimes they can be quite crazy. One of these instances takes place every Christmas Day in Sandycove, a suburb of South Dublin, where some intrepid people meet up to have a swim in the freezing Irish sea all together. Chilling!

4. 12 pubs of Christmas

There is an old Christmas carol that refers to the 12 days that lead up to Christmas Day and to the gifts that a couple of lovers would exchange on each of these days. Well, what better gift to give a loved one than a pint from each and every one of the 12 best pubs of your area? This tradition is often picked up by many Irish as well as tourists, but only a few of them can actually make it to the end!


written by Maria Anna Saija

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