Celebrating Christmas & Cultures, part 4

How about Christmas in Ireland?

You don’t really need to fly to Ireland to celebrate Christmas & Cultures with Irish Christmas cultural traditions. Did you know our own Christmas is regaled with Irish traditions going back eons? According to Wikipedia, “Irish culture has had a significant influence on other cultures, especially in the fields of literature.”

Ireland loves books, particularly at Christmas time. According to Jordan G. Teicher in his National Public Radio article, Literary Iceland Revels In Its Annual Christmas Book Flood (December 25, 2012), “Iceland publishes more books per capita than any other country in the world . . . But what’s really unusual is the timing . . . It’s a national tradition, and it has a name: Jolabokaflod, or the ‘Christmas Book Flood.’” This tradition is deeply rooted in how Irish families perceive Christmas as a holiday.

Irish Christmas Begins

Christmas in Ireland is the largest celebration of the year, from about December 8 through January 6. Putting up decorations and Christmas trees, along with Christmas shopping begins, like most Western countries. Yet, Customs of Christmas declares “Like many other European countries Ireland celebrates Christmas . . . from December 26 to January 6, also known as the Twelve Days of Christmas.”

According to Wikipedia, “The greeting for “Happy Christmas” in Irish is Nollaig Shona Duit . . . (singular) or Nollaig Shona Daoibh [plural] . . . the literal translation . . . is ‘Happy Christmas to you’. If . . . literally translated, word for word, into English, it would be ‘Christmas, happy, to you.’” The English greeting, “Happy Christmas” is more common in Ireland than our “Merry Christmas.”

Certain activities occur throughout those twelve days. Others are filled with attending mummer’s plays, visiting friends and family, sporting events, and dancing. According to Customs of Christmas, After the Christmas day feast families stay home relaxing, talking, singing, playing musical instruments, and telling family ancestry stories about the famine, Irish heroes and villains, and the Nativity.

Irish Christmas Heritage

For the more passionate, loyal Irish historians, IrishAbroad.com recounts “Europe evolved from the classical age of Rome to the medieval era largely through the efforts of Irish monks . . . Irish monks and scribes maintained the very record of Western civilization — copying manuscripts of Greek and Latin writers, both pagan and Christian, while libraries and learning on the continent were forever lost. After the fall of the Roman Empire assorted Goths, Visigoths, Vandals and Frankish hordes ransacked the content. But across the Irish Sea the monks and scholars of Armagh, Glendalough etc were quietly working away, ready to re-introduce Christianity (and Christmas) back into Europe, bringing a uniquely Irish world-view to the task.”

Irish Christmas Traditions

Today, there are many Irish Christmas traditions borrowed from ancient civilizations. IrishAbroad.com claims “Christmas candles and Christmas lights owe their existence to both pagan Celtic and Christian Ireland . . . related to the Yule log. In Celtic times candles were used for divination — an attempt to prophesy events . . . the candles now stood for devotion. Their use was reinforced during the years of religious persecution in Ireland when candles were put into the windows to attract fugitive priests.”

IrishAbroad.com describes “Two of the most persistent customs from Celtic times are the decoration of the house with holly, mistletoe and ivy. Evergreen plants as symbols of survival have been around in Ireland since pre-Christian times, being used as a defence against demons and witches. As any right-thinking person knows, or at least did then, evil spirits are afraid of green . . . Today, most of the traditional trappings of Christmas as we know it come not from Bethlehem but from various parts of Europe, particularly from the Celtic, Germanic and Norse tribes.”

The Christmas Dinner is one of Ireland’s center pieces, according to IrelandInformation.com. Called the Laden Table, “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 the welcoming candle. If Mary and Joseph, or any wandering traveller, happened by then they could avail of the hospitality.” According to YourIrish.com, “An Irish Christmas dinner may consist of turkey, ham, chicken, stuffing, potatoes, Brussels sprouts, vegetables and a brave attempt at a Christmas Pudding or even homemade Christmas mince pies.” In more modern times children are given after Christmas dinner chocolate as a treat, called a Selection Box.

Another historic tradition practiced today, is the Christmas cake. According to WhyChristmas.com this round cake was full of caraway seeds. “One is traditionally made for each person in the house. Now it’s more common to have a Christmas Cake like those in the UK, a rich fruit cake covered with marzipan and decorated with icing.”

Ireland also has their Christmas carols. Ireland.com declares “One of the longest sung Christmas carols, The Wexford Carol, is believed to have originated in Enniscorthy, County Wexford . . . It dates back to the 12th century and tells the tale of the Nativity.”

Irish Christmas & New Year Celebrations Continue

Irish Christmas continues to meld with celebrations for the New Year. Let’s see how they celebrate in the next article, part 5. All Christmas celebrations have evolved over the generations. Yet, one important tradition remains the same—the tender gathering together of family, friends, and even that stranger you gift with comfort and care. May the hope and message of Christ at Christmas also remain. And from my family to yours . . . a very Irish “Nollaig Shona Daoibh” or “Christmas, happy, to you!”