Christmas in Ireland and Northern Ireland is something else, we have some traditions that many take part in. Traditions ranging from the weird to the sweet. Though Irish Christmas does share some similarities with Christmas in USA and England, some traditions are uniquely Irish (do you know any?). Nevertheless, the island radiates Christmas spirit and I love spending the festive period back at home.
In Ireland, Fairytale of New York is the one song you are guaranteed to hear everywhere at Christmas. It’s the national anthem for Christmas in Ireland, maybe because it just radiates alcoholism haha. But nevertheless at any opportunity it will be played. You can be walking through the mall and it’ll be playing, orchestras may play it in their Christmas show or you will just find some drunken couple humming the tune along the street etc.
The bittersweet or odd lyrics and the gruff voice of The Pogues’ Shane McGowan alongside the late Kirsty McColl have ensured its place in music history. Despite many people trying to get the classic song banned, it still lives on. Christmas just wouldn’t be Christmas without it. I think it’s absurd to try ban it, and hopefully I’m not the only one haha. I know in my family it’s a song that is played throughout Christmas and is loved by everyone. It is one that my late nan was obsessed with so of course remains a special tune in our hearts.
Another tradition is the Christmas swim, this is a weird one in my opinion. Many people around the island on Christmas Day go to the coast and throw themselves into freezing cold sea. As someone whose got Thalassophobia this is a tradition I have never taken part in, and never will haha. I think they are mad for throwing themselves into the ice cold December sea. The Christmas Swim is one of Ireland’s biggest traditions, and many do it for charity. So it is a good tradition in some sense but still a little weird to me haha. Would you do it?
Preparing for Christmas
In Belfast, you have to attend Christmas at City Hall. It is where the Christmas Market is with many different stalls to do your last minute shopping, trying mulled wine and weird festive foods. There is around 90 stalls offering a range of items, when you are walking through you get to smell everything at once. It’s a rather odd sensation but one that everyone gets to experience there. Not to mention getting squished by all the people, like I said you have to go to the market everyone in the city does haha. Inside City Hall you can take your festive photos by the Christmas tree, something we have done in the past haha. Just cute festive things. In the south you have many amazing markets such as Dublin, Galway, Cork and Waterford; all pretty festive and great to attend.
Giving people gifts who provide services
We are rather giving human beings, so at Christmas time many Irish people give money or gifts to those who provide a regular service to them. For example, you are likely to find an Irish household gifting their postman some money or alcohol, as it is another favourable gift option that goes down a treat with the recipient. Of course, it’s tradition after all to be obsessed with drinking.
This giving of gifts is to show appreciation to those who do services for others. The amount may not be much, but if every family gives a little, it adds up rather quickly for these service workers. Giving them a pretty good Christmas bonus. Throughout my life growing up in Northern Ireland, I have witnessed each one of my family members doing this. My mam gives our postman a Christmas gift each year, maybe even the soda delivery man. You would give your hairdresser a present, your teacher, your dentist and even your doctor. Anyone who you see regularly and you feel deserve a gift for all the good work they do throughout the year.
Christmas day is a time for families. We usually have everyone gathered in one house. Opening gifts together and having dinner. Dinner is generally served early in the afternoon instead of later at night. The main course of the meal is usually a goose or a turkey. But as I am plant based this is different for me; I have nut roasts. Sides include stuffing, gravy, and not forgetting the potatoes! We have mashed potatoes and roast potatoes, variation is key for potatoes. Christmas dinner is often the largest meal of the year, everyone loads up their plate. We eat until we can’t move and want to nap.
Having a cup of tea is a tradition that is year round. However on Christmas it is an excuse to make a cup for everyone and sit around watching some TV or playing a 4 hour game of monopoly (that’s what happened last year haha). We drink tea whilst opening gifts, cleaning up and chilling in the evening. We just drink tea at every possible moment we can. My favourite tea is from Suki Tea, and I was kindly gifted an advent calendar from them this year. Enjoying it so much, I’ve have been drinking my advent tea every single day since December 1. Suki Tea is locally made in Belfast which makes it the perfect ethical, low carbon tea company to support and enjoy a cuppa with. Tea is a must at Christmas.
It doesn’t end on the 25th December!
On the island the festive season takes place up until the 6th January. On this day, Ireland celebrates the Feast of Epiphany, in the North, we call it “Old Christmas Day”. This is essentially a Women’s Christmas, in which women are encouraged to take the day to themselves to relax, shop, go to a spa, or whatever else their heart desires. Men are expected to do all the housework and take down the decorations. In my house, the whole ‘women’s Christmas’ doesn’t exist haha, my mam helps to take the decorations down. Maybe this year we will let her have her women’s Christmas, it’s tradition after all.
Some things in Ireland are similar to England, but we have some unique or weird traditions that make Christmas in Ireland interesting. If you ever get the chance to experience an Irish Christmas, I would say go for it. Festive season on the island is all about family, food, giving gifts and having a good time.