Do you day dream of spending a traditional Christmas in Ireland? While the basics of Christmas in the USA and Ireland are not too different, some of the details are. Here are a few Irish Christmas essentials to flesh out your fantasies, prepare for the year you do come or help you make your Christmas more Irish, no matter where in the world you are.
The School Christmas Pageant – With 90% of the primary schools in Ireland run by the Catholic church and a good portion of the remaining 10% run by other Christian denominations, it is quite common for young students to put on a nativity play at school.
The Panto – A far more secular Christmas entertainment option is the panto play. Every town of any size will have their own slapstick version of a popular fairy tale on with an all ages cast and loads of audience participation.
Window Decorations – If you were here helping relatives decorate the windows for Christmas, you could expect to be setting a set of electric candles on a window sill and hanging a light up sign with the words “Santa please stop here” in another window. Strings of lights are catching on, but are not as popular as they are in the US.
You’ll also see the words ‘Nollaig Shona Dhuit’, which is Irish for happy Christmas.
Christmas Crackers – When it is time for Christmas dinner in Ireland, you will discover an extra part of the place setting – a Christmas cracker for everyone. This is not the type of cracker you eat. It’s a long, wrapped tube. After dinner, two people will take one and each will pull an end. Whoever gets the biggest piece can claim the contents of the cracker – typically a small toy, a paper crown and a corny joke.
Desserts – While you might be having the familiar roast turkey with stuffing (aka dressing), expect more potatoes and less cranberry sauce, dessert will make it clear you aren’t in Kansas anymore. Mince pies have a confusing name. While mince is ground meat, mince pies use mincemeat that isn’t meat at all. It’s fruit. And it’s delicious. You’ll discover more adventures with dried fruits with your Christmas pudding and Christmas cake, both of which contain copious amounts of alcohol but are fine for all ages because the actual alcohol content has been cooked out of them.
St. Stephen’s Day – Wait, the festivities are not over yet! December 26th is St. Stephen’s Day, which has nothing to do with Boxing Day except that they share a date. St. Stephen’s Day commemorates the day Stephen was betrayed by a wren and killed, which is why it is sometimes called Wren Day. Once upon a time, boys would go out and hunt a wren, but now we’ve stopped blaming all wrens for the actions of one. More enduring is the tradition of singing and dancing in costume, and increasingly it is used to raise funds for charity.