Irish Christmas Traditions: How to Have an Irish Christmas
Christmas in Ireland
Christmas is the most important time of the year for Irish families. Unlike in the USA and Canada, in Ireland, we don't celebrate Thanksgiving. So, for us, Christmas is the time of the year when families and loved ones make sure that they spend time together. We have many Irish Christmas Traditions that help us to mark the holiday season and remind us of the true meaning of Christmas.
Today there are Irish, and people of Irish descent, living all over the world. Bringing these Irish traditions into your Christmas celebrations is a lovely way to reconnect with your Irish roots, no matter where you are spending the holiday season.
Traditional Food for an Irish Christmas
Here are some ideas for creating an Irish Christmas table (links to recipes are on the side):
- Don't have turkey. Although most Irish families now have turkey for their Christmas dinner, it is a custom we have imported from the USA in the twentieth century. Goose or ham would be a more traditional choice for your Christmas roast.
- Do have champ. Serve your potatoes as 'champ.' Champ is a form of mashed potatoes which is unique to Ireland. Add a handful of chopped scallions (spring onions) to a large bowl of mashed potato. Serve with a large knob of butter melting over the top. Delicious!
- Bring on the cabbage and bacon. For greens, try cabbage with a little bacon. Boil or steam some cabbage, fry a little chopped bacon in a separate pan, and then add the two together. Sauté for a couple of minutes and serve.
- Make whiskey Christmas cake. It makes a truly Irish winter desert. Whiskey cake can last for months, so this is one part of your dinner you can prepare well in advance! Give this recipe a try.
- Make barmbrack. This bread is a delicious, warming snack to serve at any time of day. Barmbrack is a traditional Irish currant loaf, slightly sweet and served toasted with butter—and a cup of tea alongside.
Make an Irish Whiskey Christmas Cake—Fun!
Irish Christmas Customs
- Advent wreath: Growing up in Ireland, an advent wreath was an important part of Catholic preparation for Christmas. The wreath is made of greenery twisted in a circle with four candles set equidistant. A candle is lit at the beginning of each of the four weeks of advent until all four candles are lit in the final week before Christmas.
- Candle in the window: It is traditional in Irish homes to set a candle in the front window on Christmas Eve. It is said to welcome weary travelers in search of a resting place, such as Mary and Joseph were in Bethlehem all those years ago.
- Midnight mass: Nothing reminds me of Christmas in Ireland like attending midnight mass. The crisp cold sky above, the bright lights of the church welcoming you in. There are many Irish carols and hymns which are traditional at Christmas time. I've included an Irish Christmas song in Gaelic below.
- Toast: Finally, you can toast the arrival of the Christmas season with the traditional Gaelic greeting;' Nollaig Shona Duit!' (pronounced no-leg hun-na ditch). It means simply, Happy Christmas to you!
Gaelic Christmas Song
Irish Christmas Ornaments and Decorations
Traditional Irish decorations you can make at home include decorating an orange pomander with cloves, decorating your house with evergreens such as holly and mistletoe, and placing candles in your windows and hearth.
If you want ideas for buying Irish Christmas decorations online, look for Celtic knot-work designs, celtic crosses and Irish symbols such as the shamrock and the harp. There are lots of good websites where you can buy Christmas decorations with an Irish theme, including Amazon.