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How Is Christmas In Ireland Celebrated And What Are Irish Traditions?

With his mouth half-full of mince pie, cranberry sauce expert, Derry, explains the Christmas traditions celebrated each December in Ireland.


🎄 Christmas Is Widely Celebrated In Ireland

⛄ It Rarely Snows In Ireland At Christmas

🏊‍♀️ Irish People Do Some Surprising Things On Christmas Day

🦃 Irish People Eat Alot At Christmas (Not Just Christmas Dinner)

🎶 In A Nutshell, Ireland Is The Best Place To Celebrate Christmas

By Derry

Christmas is an important festival in Ireland with modern customs, traditional foods and deep roots.

Read on to learn about an Irish Christmas and how some ancient practices live on into the 21st century.

🌟 Do Irish People Celebrate Christmas?

First time visitors are often surprised at how widely Christmas is celebrated in Ireland.

The country effectively shuts down for a week between Christmas Eve and New Year's Day.

Retail opening times and public transport are severely restricted during this period. Many offices and places of work will shut as friends and family travel to celebrate Christmas together.

Because New Year's Day is a public holiday in Ireland, the country doesn't really open up again until the first week of January.

🎅 What Day Does Ireland Celebrate Christmas?

In Ireland, we celebrate Christmas Day on December 25th.

Christmas Eve, December 24th, is traditionally a day for people to return to their home towns from Dublin or abroad. On the evening of December 24th, families and neighbours get together at home or in local pubs, which normally close early on Christmas Eve.

Christchurch lit up at night with a Christmas tree in front of it

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 Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK, December 26th is known as Boxing Day. This is because, traditionally, servants and tradesmen were given gifts in boxes from their masters and clients on that day.

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. Work off some of that Christmas Day dinner!

🎁 How Do Irish People Do On Christmas Day?

Aside from the obvious — mass, eating, drinking and exchanging gifts — Irish people celebrate Christmas Day in some surprising ways.

From Christmas Day swims to fun runs, Irish people love raising money for charitable causes over Christmas. Getting a blast of cold winter air — or icy sea water — is a perfect way to appreciate your cosy fireside.

Dinner always tastes better after taking part in one of these events!

Another quirky custom from Ireland is the Christmas tractor parade.

As darkness falls on country towns across Ireland, farmers start up their tractors, combine harvesters and other farm machinery with local people lining the route to see the illuminations.

⛄ Does It Snow In Ireland At Christmas?

We rarely experience a white Christmas in Ireland.

In fact, we rarely get snow in Ireland at all. The Irish climate is surprisingly mild. Average December air temperatures hover between 5-8°C (41-46°C) but rarely drop far below freezing.

It has been known to snow in Ireland at Christmas time. But white Christmases are few and far between, unfortunately.

Read our guide to Irish weather and the best time to visit Ireland

🦃 What Is A Traditional Christmas Dinner in Ireland?

We eat LOTS of food over Christmas.

Irish people love an excuse to celebrate. And our Christmas celebrations always revolve around cooking, eating and alcohol!

Roast turkey at Christmas in Ireland

You better get ready to indulge if you visit Ireland during the festive period.

Christmas dinner in Irish homes is no different. If you receive an invitation, expect multiple courses and lots of rounds of drinking and toasts.

Many dishes will be familiar. 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.

Find out more about what foods Irish people eat for Christmas

🛍️ The Irish Black Friday

December 8th is the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. It began as a religious holiday but has taken on new significance in Ireland.

Here, December 8th is traditionally a day when rural Ireland descends on Dublin en masse, to do their Christmas shopping. In times past, there was hardly any space to park your tractor!

Crowds shopping at night on a lit up Grafton Street

In recent years, this practice has become less popular. And of course, Covid-19 restrictions have called a halt to many Christmas retail expeditions.

Rural Ireland nowadays has shopping centres of its own. And farming families shop online just like everyone else!

Yes, Black Friday and Cyber Monday are popular here too.

🎄 Irish Christmas Trees, Holly and Other Plants

The tradition of erecting and decorating an evergreen tree arrived in Ireland via the German-born Prince Albert, husband to the British Queen Victoria.

However, the custom has deeper roots still. Before modern times, Irish people decorated their homes with all manner of greenery. Holly and laurel, for example, are plentiful in Ireland during winter time. In times past, these plants were considered a way to ward off evil spirits from your home.

Holly tree in Ireland

Finding a holly bush with lots of berries, was traditionally considered a lucky omen for the year ahead. However, if the berries emerged earlier than December, folklore dictated a harsh winter was to follow!

Today, Irish people use the rich green leaves and bright red berries of holly to add colour to their homes at Christmas.

Customs around mistletoe date back to the medieval period. Mistletoe was seen as warding off evil spirit and bringing good luck. Similarly to now, it was hung over the door of a dwelling.

The custom of kissing under the Mistletoe also dates back hundreds of years. Some say this is the best bit of Christmas!

🕯️ Welcoming Candle

Illuminating a window in your home is an Irish Catholic tradition.

A red candle lighting surrounded by a wreath

The custom symbolises that the homeowner would welcome in Jesus, Mary and Joseph, the holy family, unlike the innkeeper in Bethlehem that turned them away. It is also seen as a welcome to any guests or family members returning from far away. The youngest member of the family traditionally lit the candle.

During penal times in Ireland, when practicing the Catholic faith was outlawed, a lit candle was a sign that it was safe to say mass in the home.

🤔 Where Is The Best Place To Go For Christmas In Ireland?

Would you like to experience a genuinely traditional Irish Christmas?

We can heartily receommend the wonderful small town of Dingle in Kerry.

And not just because it has some of Ireland's best traditional pubs and it's most beautiful scenery...

In bygone years, December 26th was synonymous all over Ireland with the Wren Boys. In Dingle, the custom has been revived and is still going strong.

What are the Wren Boys? They're groups of people dressed up in straw hats and colourful costumes, with painted faces. They go door to door, playing music and looking for money to bury the wren.

In ancient times, the wren was hugely symbolic to Celts. At one time the wren was hunted and nailed to a pole. For this reason the day was also called 'Hunting the Wren'. Thankfully, this part of the tradition has died out.

♀️ Epiphany in Ireland = Womens' Christmas

January 6th is celebrated across the world as Little Christmas or Epiphany.

In Ireland, January 6th is known as Nollaig na mBan (pronounced Null-ig na mon), or Womens Christmas.

Customarily, this was a day for Irish women to rest after working hard over Christmas. Men took care of the children and chores.

Today, of course, Irish society has (hopefully) become less chauvinistic. Household duties are most definitely shared.

Even if Nollaig na mBan is not celebrateed as it once was, January 6th represents the end of the Christmas period for most Irish people. Christmas trees, wreaths, decorations, candles and holly are normally taken down on this date.

🗣️ How To Say Merry Christmas In Irish

Christmas is 'Nollaig' in Irish.

Wish your Irish friends a Merry Christmas = Nollaig Shona Duit - (pronounced Null-ig hun na dit)

Say Santa Claus in Irish = Daidí na Nollaig - (pronounced daddy na null-ig)

Say Season Greetings in Irish = Beannachta an tSasir - (pronounced BAN-ock-tee on Tay-zure)

Questions? We'd love to hear from you!

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