It’s December, temperatures are dropping, shopping centres are hopping, and it’s dark outside by lunchtime if you’re lucky! This of course can only mean one thing; holiday season is upon us, and Christmas is just around the corner. Like most other countries, Ireland has its own set of traditions that makes Christmas time on the Emerald Isle inherently Irish. In this article we are going to explore what makes a typical Irish Christmas, from the preparations for the big day, to Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and that cosy fallout period between St. Stephen’s Day and the start of a brand new year.
Christmas in Ireland
Preparations for Christmas in Ireland start early, and I mean very early! With Christmas cake and plum pudding still a major stalwart of the festive season right across the island, prep begins months in advance, with many experienced Christmas bakers kicking off proceedings in September or October! Like many other places, Christmas cards, gifts, wine, and chocolates are exchanged heavily between friends and co-workers throughout December, with presents for close family members reserved for Christmas day itself. Of course, with it being Ireland, you can expect pubs, restaurants, and hotel bars to be packed to the rafters for much of the holiday season.
December 8th is a date not to be missed in the Irish Christmas calendar. Traditionally the Feast of the Immaculate Conception (a Catholic Church holiday), most Catholic schools in Ireland close on this day. The shops however most definitely do not close, with the 8th representing the day when people traditionally started their serious Christmas shopping, often with a planned day out to the streets of Dublin in search of bits for under the tree!
Christmas Eve is quite a social time in Ireland, often used as a day for last minute shopping and maybe a coffee with friends or relatives who are home for the festive season. The atmosphere across towns and cities is very festive but also pretty relaxed, with people regularly stopping to chat on the street and wish each other a Happy Christmas. Ireland is home to thousands upon thousands of emigrants who often come on or just before December 24th. Hence, it’s not uncommon for those coming from abroad to retire to the pub to catch up with friends they have not seen throughout the year.
Back at home, things may not be so relaxed, with preparations ongoing for that all important Christmas dinner the next day. Friends and family members may call round to toast the season and lend a helping hand in the kitchen. A Baileys coffee and a box of Celebrations are never too out of reach, and a warm open fire makes them taste all the sweeter! Of course, it goes without saying that one of the most important Christmas Eve traditions is one seen right across the world; leaving a snack out for Santa and his reindeer. In Ireland, cookies, mince pies, or Christmas cake with a glass of milk or whiskey are always on the menu, and don’t forget that all important carrot for Rudolph and his pals.
Following weeks and weeks of preparation, Christmas Day arrives with a bang, and early one at that if you’ve got small kids in the house! Most families opt to exchange gifts on Christmas morning, though few like to wait until after Christmas dinner. Most people will attend Christmas Mass at their local church later that morning, if they’ve not already attended a midnight service the night before.
Typical Christmas Food
In the kitchen, once the turkey is in the oven, family members often use the early afternoon as an opportunity to call to friends, relatives, and neighbours to deliver gifts and share a drink or two. Then its home just in time for the big meal, usually in the late afternoon around 3pm or 4pm, with some opting for a little later around 6pm or 7pm. Dinner will usually comprise of turkey and ham, with roast and mashed potato, stuffing, brussels sprouts, cranberry sauce, and gravy. Afterwards it’s usually a sherry trifle, Christmas pudding, or some calorific combination of chocolate and ice cream!
Christmas Day is usually rounded off with a few casual drinks, card games, board games, and general lounging in front of a warm fire and a wealth of seasonal film options on the television, with a great day had by all!
The days following Christmas Day can often be just as special as the big day itself. Most businesses will stay closed until at least the following Tuesday, leaving folks to call to friends, see a Christmas Panto show, or attend a horseracing event before returning to work in the new year.
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