The unique Christmas spirit in Ireland is irresistible. Even the Grinch himself would be charmed by a Christmas on the island. To prove it, here are eight fun facts about celebrating Christmas here.
Christmas will never come soon enough. Come December 8th, Christmas officially begins in Ireland. The landscape starts to twinkle with festive lights, Christmas markets are buzzing, and friends and family come home from far afield to celebrate the season.
Did you know: the use of evergreen Christmas trees is a relatively new decoration in Ireland. Historically, holly and ivy were used to brighten up homes during the festive season. Superstitious? Apparently, the more berries on the holly bush, the better luck to come next year.
“Good people all, this Christmas time, Consider well and bear in mind…” What’s Christmas without carols and hymns? One of the oldest Christmas carols, The Wexford Carol, is believed to have originated in Enniscorthy, County Wexford, hence its name in Irish: Carúl Loch Garman. No one is quite sure when it was composed, but it tells the tale of the Nativity.
Fancy wishing someone Happy Christmas in Irish? “Nollaig Shona Duit” (NO-lihg HO-nuh ghwich) translates roughly as “Happy Christmas to you”. In Ulster Scots (or Ullans) the words are “Ablythe Yuletide”. Different words, same message – and all on the one island!
Before being used to steal kisses, mistletoe was believed by the ancient Celts to possess magnificent healing powers. It was even banned for some time as a symbol of paganism. Homes in Ireland now hang mistletoe in doorways to symbolise peace and goodwill (kisses sometimes welcome, of course).
6. Festively freeeeeezing
Head to the Forty Foot in Dublin’s Sandycove, or to Portstewart Strand in County Londonderry on Christmas morning, and you’ll spot hundreds of brave souls taking to the sea in the spirit of Christmas. The Christmas Day swim takes place all over Ireland’s coastline, with participants taking the chilly plunge, often for charity.
In both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, 26 December is a celebrated public holiday. In Northern Ireland, though, the date is known as Boxing Day, while those in the Republic of Ireland refer to it as St Stephen’s Day. In the Republic, keep your eyes peeled for "Wren Boys" parading the streets in straw suits (particularly in Dingle, County Kerry) dancing and singing to raise money for charity.
Often referred to as Women’s (or Little) Christmas, 6 January is officially the last day of Christmas. It’s also traditionally the day when women must avoid all housework, and the men of the house stay home, take down decorations (it’s bad luck if you don’t!) and prepare all the meals.