Nollaig Shona Duit is Merry Christmas in Irish Gaelic, which is still taught in schools in Eire, the Irish Republic.
Irish Christmas traditions differ very little from the traditions followed in other western countries. However, the Irish do have their own unique Christmas rituals, such as gift-giving, attending Mass, and decorating Christmas trees , are shared by most nations where Christmas is celebrated. But Ireland does have its unique Christmas rituals.
Twelve Days Of Christmas
Because it is still quite a religious Catholic country, Irish traditions reflect this more than the increasingly secular customs of North America.
Twelve Day Of Christmas is a popular Christmas carol which is believed to be a remnant from a time when it was illegal to follow Catholicism and the gifts talked about in the carol are hidden references to Catholic rules.
It was used as a memory exercise for those who were secret adherents to Catholicism.
The lighting of Christmas candles also has a symbolic religious significance in Ireland. It is a way of symbolizing hospitality for Mary and Joseph. A number of candles or one large candle lit outside oneís house is a way of saying that there is room there for Jesusí parents even if there was none at Bethlehem. Many people also lay out the table with an extra plate in anticipation of these holy visitors.
Christmas Dinner in Ireland is a rather grand gastronomical affair which is eagerly looked forward to by one and all. All the traditional Christmas dishes are served along with Irish specialties such as spiced beef. There is also the usual Turkey, Ham, Cranberry sauce and stuff. The dessert is the high point of the meal consisting a mixture of Christmas pudding, mice pies and rum sauce.
Most people attend midnight mass on Christmas Eve before proceeding to this sumptuous Christmas feast, laid out as if for the Kings of Ireland themselves.
Gift Giving and St. Stephen's Day
A common tradition in Ireland demands that small cash gifts be given to domestic help such as the milkman and gardener. Traditionally this use to be followed on Boxing Day known as St.Stephen's Day in Ireland. It is the day after Christmas. On St. Stephen's Day people use to entertain themselves by attending Pantomime performances which were greatly exaggerated in the manner which men played women's roles and vice versa. In Dublin, one would still find many a plays being staged.
The Wren Boys
Christmas in Ireland would be totally incomplete without the Wren Boys on St. Stephen's Day. This is a very old tradition which goes back many centuries, even before the time of the Irish patron saint, St. Patrick.
There was a custom of long long ago where a wren was chased out of the bushes and its body was suspended on a holly bush. People, of course, no longer kill the bird but continue to visit from door to door dressed up in homemade costumes like the Americans on Halloween.
The song they yell from house to house is called:
The wren, the wren,
the king of all birds
The Wren boys are generally treated with delicious pudding and sweets. The Wren boys convince any youngsters in the house to continue along with them until there is a large gang of young folk being followed by almost all the children in the neighborhood.
They will end up in some neighbour's house and if someone produces a fiddle the party begins. And well, it has to be said; nobody quiet plays the fiddle the way the Irish do and nobody knows how to party like them either.
On the feast Epiphany, December 6 th , Christmas officially ends in Ireland. All the Christmas decorations are taken of on this day and the celebrations are marked off by a last feast of the season.