Irish Traditions Honor The True Meaning of Christmas

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Do you know how to say “Merry Christmas” in Gaelic?  How many different names do you know for Santa Claus?  Keep reading to see the Irish name of the jolly old guy!  Ciara O’Brian is joining us today to write about the Christmas traditions on the Emerald Isle.

Ancient Pagan rituals of the Irish people evolved to become meaningful Christmas traditions that are still honored today. In Pagan times, the Winter Solstice was a pivotal period that was marked by a preliminary frenzy of tidying and organizing. Today, the Irish (who were first converted to Christianity by Saint Patrick and his ilk during the medieval period) retain traces of these ancient traditions as they prepare to honor the birth of Jesus on December 25th. Many Irish men and women spend plenty of time painting, sorting, cleaning and decorating their homes before Christmas Day…this tradition ushers out the old and rings in the new…

Social and spontaneous, the Irish people enjoy celebrating Christmas en masse at local churches, where they congregate to sing hymns, hear sermons, and enjoy performances by choirs and musicians. The vibrant tradition of Irish music is honored at almost every church in Ireland, and most Irish people do gather at these religious institutions during Christmastime. Vigil masses at midnight are quite common (attendees light holy candles to demonstrate their faith), as are services on St. Stephen’s Day (Dec. 25th). Churches are beautifully decorated with painstakingly crafted nativity scenes that are placed close to altars.

Celebrations continue in private residences, where Irish families enjoy special feasts that honor the season. At these feasts, children must clean their plates of roast turkey and side dishes (including Brussels sprouts!) before being rewarded with a variety of chocolate treats (these treats are arranged in a selection box).

Irish homes are adorned with pine Christmas trees, pretty ornaments, and single Christmas candles (which rest on the sills of front windows). Wreaths, crafted from boughs of holly, are hung on scrubbed and polished front doors, as a symbolic gesture of welcome and celebration. Irish children (like many other kids around the world) await Christmas morning with feverish anticipation, as they know they will receive all manner of goodies, in the form of brightly-wrapped presents or treats tucked into Christmas stockings. Irish children wait impatiently for Santa’s arrival, and many awaken terribly early to see what he has brought from his workshop in the North Pole…

Nativity scenes appear in private residences, as well as in Irish churches – in fact, these tender scenes are poignant decorative elements in many Emerald Isle homes. Pretty dioramas feature mangers, cribs, and tiny replicas of baby Jesus, Joseph, and Mary; other secondary characters, such as the Three Wise Men, may also be represented. Sometimes, these nativity scenes are passed down from generation to generation, and they usually have great sentimental value. Setting up the crèche (crib) and other parts of the nativity scene are often important Christmas traditions in Ireland. Irish children may assist their parents in arranging the nativity scenes, which teach them more about the story of Jesus’ birth.

In Gaelic, the words for Merry Christmas are Nollaig Shona Duit, and Santa Claus may be called by the name, Santy. The Irish people are world-renowned for their gift of gab and their talent in poetry and literature – these attributes come to the forefront as many residents of the Emerald Isle write in-depth letters to distant loved ones around Christmas time. These letters are yet another charming method that the Irish people use to connect with the spirit of the season… and with their own beloved friends and family…

Don’t miss the giveaway of Celtic Jewelry!

Ciara O’Brien writes for the online Celtic jewelry store: Irish Celtic Jewels, and writes about diamond Celtic engagement rings and wedding rings, and provides information about Celtic style weddings.


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    My father was first generation American as both his parents came by sea from Ireland. Great Aunt Mamie moved down to live with us the last 8 or so years of her life. I loved listening to her beautiful Irish brogue and recite poetry and lyrics in Gaelic. Wish I could have gotten her to share more stories about her life. The Irish way is not always very open with their lives but I was blessed to get to share some of her ways. Irish tea is still an almost daily ritual here- lots of cream and sugar please!

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