Celebrating Christmas & Cultures, part 5 – The New Year

Celebrating Christmas & Cultures, part 5 – The New Year

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For the Irish, and for us here at home, celebrating Christmas traditions meld together with New Year celebrations. As the finale for this holiday series, Ireland knows how to not only celebrate Christmas but bring in the New Year as well. Ireland’s Christmas day, at least for this year, was December 25. Yet, the celebrations continue with the Irish traditional twelve days of Christmas from December 26 to January 6. With New Year celebrations included, our Irish cousins surely know how to make it last, even more than we do at home!

Irish Christmas Continues

After the end of Christmas Day feasting, December 25, Irish families, according to Customs of Christmas, stay home relaxing, talking, singing, playing musical instruments, and telling family ancestry stories about the famine, Irish heroes and villains, and the Nativity.

On the next day, December 26, St. Stephen's Day is celebrated. It’s also known as “Boxing Day” as well as for the hunting of the wren. Dating back to the 17th century, there seems to be competing origin theories of the term. According to Wikipedia, Oxford English Dictionary defines “Boxing Day” from 1830s Britain, as the first week-day after Christmas-day where “. . . post-men, errand-boys, and servants of various kinds expect to receive a Christmas-box.”

The Christmas box was a “. . . present or gratuity given at Christmas: in Great Britain, usually confined to gratuities given to those who are supposed to have a vague claim upon the donor for services rendered to him as one of the general public by whom they are employed and paid, or as a customer . . . for which he has not directly paid them, some direct acknowledgement is becoming at Christmas.”

Irish Second Christmas Day

Boxing Day is shared with “St. Stephen’s Day” and celebrated as a Second Christmas Day. St. Stephen's Day commemorates the life of Saint Stephen, a Christian martyr. Many people spend the day quietly with close friends or family, and attend a special church service in remembrance of St. Stephen. The day is also known as the “Day of the Wren.”

People participate in what IrelandInformation.com describes as the Wren Boy Procession. Revived in recent years, the procession includes “. . . parades being held on St. Stephens Day in Sandymount in Dublin and other locations. There are several legends regarding the 'wren boy'. One such tale tells of a plot in a village against some British soldiers during Penal times. The soldiers were surrounded and were about to be ambushed when a group of wrens pecked on their drums raising the alarm. The plot failed and thus the wren became known as 'The Devil's Bird' . . . It is possible that the very Irish tradition of visiting houses of friends and relatives on St. Stephens Day traces its origin to these events.”

According the Customs of Christmas, “In times past a wren was found by a group of boys and chased until the boys caught and killed it. The dead bird was then paraded through town tied to a pole. It was carried from house to house where a song was sung requesting treats of money, food, or drink. Those who gave treats were given a feather from the bird for good luck. Today a straw wren, a toy bird, or a bunch of feathers are tied to the pole and the money collected is donated to a worthy cause.”

Irish Christmas Finale & New Year Celebrations

December 28 is Holy Innocents' Day where many attend a special mass in remembrance of Herod killing the male children of Bethlehem. Then a mix of more Christmas remembrances and New Year celebrations commence.

According to Customs of Christmas, on New Year’s Eve families eat a heavy meal called Oiche Coille. Believed if not eaten, the family will be hungry next year. Then add bonfires, fireworks, and parades, with church bells ringing and parties at pubs, lounges, and nightclubs. On New Year's Day all businesses close and everyone spends time with family and friends, taking long walks.

“On January 6, the Irish people celebrate Epiphany commemorating the arrival and adoration of the Wiseman. Churches are full of people attending mass. In many houses three candles are placed in the windows representing the three Magi.” For Ireland.com, Epiphany is referred to as Women’s (or Little) Christmas. “. . . January 6 is officially the last day of Christmas. It’s also traditionally the day when women must avoid all housework, and the men of the house stay home, take down decorations (it’s bad luck if you don’t!) and prepare all the meals.” Sounds like a great tradition to adopt, doesn’t it?! And add a few more days too!

Christmas & New Year’s Shared Around the World

Probably the most celebrated holiday in the world, our modern Christmas is a product of both secular and religious traditions from around the world. Ireland has played a major role in its preservation of cultural traditions blending the Christmas miracle with New Year celebrations. Discover the origins of Christmas traditions of other countries around the globe with these links.

Christmas Traditions Worldwide (History.com)
Christmas (History.com)
History of Christmas (History.com)
Christmas Dinners Around the World (AllThingsChristmas.com)

In the years ahead, no matter how our Christmas celebration traditions evolve, may we all continue to share in the miracle and message of the manger throughout the 2018 New Year.