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Ireland’s Favorite Christmas Traditions

It's Christmas Time!

A sure sign that Christmas time is coming to Ireland is when the Roses are in bloom – not the flowers, but the chocolates. We usually start to see signs of these in supermarkets in about mid-October, tucked not so discreetly in behind the Halloween displays in anticipation of the big reveal. It would be a grave mistake to purchase them at this time though, as they will surely be devoured within days. Still, we can always buy more.

December 8th – Culchie Shopping Day

December 8th, or “Culchie Shopping Day”, as Dubliners like to call it, was traditionally the day the “culchies” (people from the country) made their annual pilgrimage to the “big smoke” (Dublin) to do their Christmas shopping. While not quite as big an event as it used to be in years gone by (fortunately, we now have shops in other parts of the country too), it’s still the date that Irish Christmas shopping kicks off in earnest. If you haven’t started your shopping by now, you’d better get a move on. At Carrolls Irish Gifts we have great Christmas gift ideas for everyone. Check out our store locator to find one near you or if you’re not a fan of crowds you could always browse in our special online Christmas Store instead.

Anytime in December – The 12 pubs of Christmas

When the pub door flies open and a large and jolly group stumbles in wearing Christmas sweaters and Santa hats, you know that the “12 Pubs of Christmas” season is in full swing. Not for the faint-hearted, this is an annual pilgrimage where a group (the lads, co-workers or friends who you don’t see all year, home for the Christmas) visits 12 pubs in one night and has a drink in each one.

A variety of rules for each pub (like wear a silly sweater, 30 minutes per pub, only drink with your left hand, have a shot, use a funny accent or speak in song) keeps things entertaining along the way. Needless to say, the chances of making it to all 12 are slim enough and probably not advisable. But remember – it’s not the winning that counts, it’s the taking part, so you can always have a few minerals on the journey.

Christmas Eve – The Big Busk

You can’t beat a stroll down Dublin’s Grafton Street on Christmas Eve. Soak up the atmosphere, admire the Christmas lights and the festive window displays, pop into the Carrolls Irish Gifts Christmas Shop on Suffolk Street for a few last-minute Christmas gifts, nip in for a cheeky pint… and if you’re lucky, maybe even catch some of Ireland’s biggest musicians busking.

“The Big Busk” was started over 10 years ago by Glen Hansard and Bono as a way to raise money for homeless people with Dublin’s Simon Community and is one of the most heart-warming events of Ireland’s Christmas calendar. Over the years it has been supported by some of Ireland’s most celebrated musicians, including Liam Ó Maonlaí, Imelda May, Damien Rice, The Coronas, Hozier, Dermot Kennedy, Gavin James and the late Sinéad O’Connor. You never know who might pop in.

Christmas Eve – Midnight Mass

Many of us remember the excitement of staying up late and saying hello to all the neighbours at Midnight Mass. (There was also the added bonus that getting it done ahead of time freed you up to focus on the important business of opening the presents on Christmas morning.) These days “Midnight Mass” is more likely to happen at 9pm, which is probably for the best, as the kids will most likely be up at 3am next morning in most Irish homes anyway.

Christmas Day – The Christmas Day Swim

There’s no better way to kickstart your Christmas Day than with a dip in the freezing cold ocean… if you’re completely and utterly bonkers, that is! Many people are, judging by the crowds who flock to places like Sandycove’s 40 Foot for their annual Christmas Day swim. This tradition has been going for over 250 years and shows no sign of stopping, gaining new recruits each year. If you’re more of a mulled-wine-by-the-fire type, we totally understand.

December 26th – St. Stephen’s Day or Wren Day

If the walls are starting to close in and you’d like a little distance from your nearest and dearest, St. Stephen’s Day, or “Wren Day”, as it’s called in the South of Ireland, is the perfect time to get out and about again.

In some parts of Ireland, like Dingle, people celebrate it by dressing up in brightly coloured clothing with masks and strands of straw streaming from them and dance through the streets to traditional Irish music.

Legend has it that when Irish soldiers were battling Viking invaders back in the 10th Century, they were attacked by a flock of wrens. The wren was also blamed for betraying St. Stephen by giving away his hiding place, resulting in his death. “Wren boys” used to hunt and kills wrens on this day in revenge and parade them through the town on poles.

These days, it’s more of a fun family day out and thankfully no wrens are harmed in the festivities.

The Christmas Panto

Another unmissable Irish Christmas tradition is the Christmas panto. Fun for all ages, with fairy tales, music and plenty of laughs, it’s a great family outing over the holidays (best get your tickets in the summer though). Will you be going this year? Oh yes you will!!

 Jan 6th – Nollaig na mBan – Little Christmas

On the 12th day of Christmas in Ireland we celebrate “Nollaig na mBan” or “Women’s Christmas or “Little Christmas”. This was traditionally a day for the womenfolk of Ireland to take a day off from housework after a busy Christmas and take a little time for themselves.

 Jan 7th – Time to get those decorations down!

While some people in Ireland like to cling onto Christmas at least until spring arrives (or maybe even toy with the idea of leaving the lights on the front of the house to save putting them up again next year), the respectable deadline for taking them down is January 7th. In fairness, we’ll have had a good run of it by then!

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