What makes the Christmas season merry and bright in the Wild West of Ireland? Everyone loves to celebrate their Christmas traditions. Sometimes it’s mistletoe and tinsel. Other times its specific dishes served for holiday meals. Maybe it’s story time around a roaring fire with the family or friends.

While Wild West Irish Tours gets cozy with an Irish cocoa, we thought we’d share what goes on during an Irish Christmas. We got the scoop from our partner and beloved B&B owner Geraldine Gibbons, who is a local to the Wild West of Ireland herself.

Traditions before Christmas

“To start, December 8th is a traditional shopping day. Country folk took their live produce such as geese, turkeys and so forth to markets in cities & larger towns. It’s still one of the busiest shopping days today, in fact,” says Geraldine. She notes that Christmas in the Wild West of Ireland is a mishmash of Christianity and paganism.

“We decorate with berried holly & ivy. These evergreens were thought to ward off evil spirits. The Celtic Christmas trees were decorated with solar objects and gifts for the Celtic pantheon.” Holiday decorations were put away on January 6th as it’s considered bad luck to leave them on display after that time. Leftover holly wasn’t thrown away and it had to be burned. Celtic tradition seems to be all about fire as a purifier, so this falls in line with that.

Berried holly is used to decorate for the holidays in Ireland.
Berried holly is used to decorate for the holidays. Photo by Joe McGowan

Christmas Eve and Christmas Day Traditions

On Christmas Eve a candle is placed on the windowsill. The candle burns until January 6th! The candle symbolizes a welcome light for Mary and Joseph. Midnight Mass is also celebrated, but many churches exercise leniency for more family-friendly time slots for worship.

If you’re out and about on your own on Christmas Eve, according to WWIT CEO Michael Waugh, “the barman at your local tavern gives you a free drink”. “This is a lasting tradition,” jokes Geraldine, “people who drink a glass of stout suddenly develop a taste for Hennessey top shelf!”

Guinness Pint on Christmas
If you’re out on your own on Christmas Eve, enjoy a pint of stout on the house at your local tavern.

When it comes to Christmas Day, if you’re a fan of turkey, goose, or ham – you’re in luck! Those marketable animals aforementioned on December 8th make a delectable debut for many a family table. Along with them, you might find potatoes and gravy, brussel sprouts, mince pies, hot whiskey, and plum pudding or porter cake!

And what better way to precede this than to work up an appetite with a Christmas morning charity swim? Some folks might be familiar with the Polar Bear Plunge – this sounds quite similar!

Christmas in Ireland
Polar Bear Plunge Charity Swims are a Christmas morning tradition.

Christmas is also typically a time for card playing, particularly in the Wild West of Ireland where the game “25” (referenced here as the national card game of Ireland) is most popular. The card game is a favorite in houses or pubs when returning family members are around again.

Traditions after December 25

Christmas traditions don’t end on December 25th, however – there are two more holidays to go, believe it or not; all rolled into one glorious Irish extravaganza.

Wren hunting is traditional to St. Stephen’s Day as the wren was thought to have betrayed St. Stephen to his enemies as he tried to hide. “Musicians, dancers, storytellers go door to door in disguise entertaining & collecting money for a party,” Geraldine notes. “It’s great fun!”

Last but never least is the lovely tradition of Nollaig na mBan (Women’s Christmas) or Little Christmas on January 6th. Traditionally this is a day where women’s household chores were carried out by men & children, while women were free to go meet up with their sisters, mothers & friends to celebrate a much-deserved day off following all the hullabaloo. Ladies, mark this one off on their calendars this year.

Holiday Recipes from Ireland

If you’ve still got an appetite for Irish traditions this holiday season, we have a special surprise for you – Geraldine has graciously granted us two recipes for your holiday table! Wow your friends and loved ones with these enticing options from the Wild West of Ireland…

 

Porter Cake Recipe:

Porter Cake Recipe 1

How to make Porter Cake

 

Plum Pudding:

Plum Pudding recipe

How to make Plum Pudding

Until next time, be well!

Sam Fishkind

Wild West Irish Tours

Social Media Manager & Scribe

Follow us on Instagram @WILDWESTIRISHTOURS