If visiting Ireland during the festive season, here are the top 6 things you need to know about how Irish families typically celebrate Christmas. From the official start of the holiday season on December 8th to Little Christmas for the ladies on January 6th, and not to mention the feast of mouthwatering food in between, it really is the most wonderful time of the year.
1. December 8th
Irish households like to start decorating their houses early. Traditionally most families put up their decorations on the 8th of December and this officially marks the start of Christmas. On December 8th, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, most Catholic schools in Ireland are closed for the day. It is traditionally the nation's number one day for Christmas shopping.
2. A welcoming candle
A Christmas candle in the window, still popular not just in Ireland but also in the US, was long displayed as a symbol of hospitality. Window candles in Ireland were a symbol that the homeowner would welcome the Holy Family – unlike the inn keeper in Bethlehem who carried the guilt of having turned them away. As you drive throughout Ireland you will see a candle in the window of many Irish households - a long lasting tradition throughout the country.
3. Working- up an apatite
Christmas Day swims take place all over Ireland on Christmas morning, where participants brave the cold icy water to raise money for their chosen charity. The most famous swim takes place at the Forty Foot Rock south of Dublin. Hundreds of people can be seen jumping off the rock into the Irish Sea wearing only a bathing suit. There is no better way to work up an appetite for Christmas day dinner!
4. The Main Dish of the Day
The traditional Irish Christmas dinner consists of roast stuffed turkey and ham, every kind of potato you can think of, gravy, and cranberry sauce. Oh and how could we forget the famous Brussels sprouts? If you have managed to leave some room for desert you will see sherry trifle on the menu, a long lasting tradition on the Irish Christmas menu.
5. St. Stephens Day ( Dec 26th)
Bars and restaurants reopen and shops start their annual winter sales, but all eyes are on the horse racing on St Stephens’s Day. The races in Leopardstown, in south Dublin attract almost 20,000 people every year. It gives people the opportunity to get out of the house and stretch the legs after a relaxing Christmas day by the fire. Who knows; maybe you will be lucky enough to pick a winner!
6. “Little Women’s Christmas”
Little Christmas is celebrated on January 6th and is known as a day of rest for the ladies. Traditionally, women take the day off, meet friends to hit the shops or treat themselves to dinner, while the men take over in the kitchen and do the houses-work. It is a very old holiday and is kept alive today by enthusiastic Irish ladies. It is after this day that Irish families take down the Christmas decorations.