The Christmas holiday is celebrated all over the world. The manner of celebrating is basically the same, yet each culture’s unique touches gives the season its own special flavor. In Ireland, the Christmas season is a long one with great attention paid to the religious aspect of the holiday. It begins with Advent, four weeks before Christmas and ends on the Feast of the Epiphany, January 6.
The Celtic people are responsible for making holly the most well known Christmas plant around the world. The Celts believed that holly represented life and rebirth. The green leaves symbolized life during the cold winter months when food was scarce and life was cold. The sprouting of the red berries marked the beginning of Spring and new life. Once Christianity was widespread, the berries represented the new life of Christ.
Instead of a spring cleaning, the people in Ireland use the time before Christmas to thoroughly clean every part of their house. In days past, all outside buildings were whitewashed. This practice continues today in several rural areas. This custom of cleaning and whitewashing served as a way to prepare a clean heart (and home) for the coming of the Christ Child.
Decorations and Candles
Long ago, only the shops and Churches were ornately decorated. The homes were adorned simply with greens, mistletoe and holly. Part of the season’s ritual was to view the display of decorations in the commercial areas. Today, most of the homes have Christmas trees with beautiful ornaments and decorations. Presents lie beneath the tree waiting to be opened on Christmas morning.
Attending Midnight Mass continues to be a common practice in Ireland. On the way to the Church it is likely to observe candles (some are now electric) in the windows of almost every house. These candles are often decorated with greenery to match the holly and greens that are placed on the fireplace mantle. It is a welcoming symbol on Christmas Eve to all who pass by the home.
Instead of hanging a stocking on the mantle, Irish children place a sock at the foot of their bed. Santa makes his visit after the children are asleep filling the stocking with fruit, coins, chocolate or small gifts.