Emerald Heritage | What are Irish Christmas Traditions?
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Dec New 21 12 11 08

What are Irish Christmas Traditions?

Christmas in Ireland is one of the best times of the year. As December 25th draws ever closer the country gets swept up in festive cheer as families and friends come together to celebrate the birth of Christ, the arrival of Santa and a chance to unwind after another busy year. 

Temperatures might plummet but a visit to Ireland for some classic Christmas craic would warm any soul and there are some regular Irish Christmas traditions that happen every year. 

Christmas Puddings

Christmas Pudding is a classic Irish Christmas dessert. 

The pudding, also known as Plum Pudding even though it doesn’t include any plums, can be found across Ireland and the UK and dates back to medieval times.     

The recipe generally includes dried fruits, treacle or molasses, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and brandy and is made months before the big day to allow it to age during the months in between. 

Christmas Trees

Nowadays Christmas Trees can be real or artificial but for the most part, real trees are either Fir or Pine and the majority of families generally put their tree up at the beginning of December. 

Like many other countries, the trees are usually decorated with twinkling lights and a star at the top, aimed at guiding the three Wise Men to their destination at the birth of Jesus Christ in his manger. 

17459 Sawel Mountain In Winter

Letters to Santa

Ireland, like many countries in the western world, expects a visit from Santa on Christmas night and as a result thousands of Irish children get more and more excited as each December day passes. 

Activities during December usually include children writing a letter to Santa, with their presents listed as well as reasons why they’ve been good that year, and then sending it either via the normal postal services or by burning the letter in the fire so the smoke travels to Lapland in the North Pole. 

The Nativity Play

In amongst the stress of preparing for Christmas Day dinner, buying presents and celebrating party season with work colleagues and friends, most Irish parents find some respite when attending their child’s Christmas Nativity play at school. 

Picture some cute but off-key singing, children dressed as Wise Men, donkeys and even sheep, plenty of tears and laughs and some children wandering, unplanned, off stage and you’ll have a good idea of what happens every year.

Some parents claim they hate it but, in years to come, they all miss the school Nativity play.


Midnight Mass

Midnight Mass, the mass to celebrate the birth of Jesus, is celebrated every year up and down the island of Ireland. 

In years gone by the mass was named as such because it normally took place around the striking of midnight between Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. However, in recent years Midnight Mass is more likely to occur around 9pm although times vary greatly depending on the parish you’re in.

Expect to see packed out chapels, plenty of family and friends reunited for another year and a generally happy, cheery mood.

Christmas Day / Christmas Dinner

Christmas Day in Ireland is traditionally celebrated amongst family and friends at home. Children receive their gifts from Santa, adults exchange gifts amongst themselves and the craic kicks off as soon as everyone is up for the day. 

Christmas Dinner, the centerpiece of the day, usually features a roasted turkey, roast ham, potatoes, vegetables (including the divisive Brussels sprouts), gravy and cranberry sauce although it can change depending on the tastes around the table. 

Boxing Day / St Stephen's Day

Boxing Day, or St Stephen’s Day, is a mix of an old traditional Christian holiday and an old British tradition that has crossed the Irish Sea over the years. 

St Stephen’s Day, celebrated on December 26th, is a day designated to one of the first Christian martyrs, Saint Stephen. This celebration, over time, was joined together with Boxing Day, thought to be named as such because this was the day servants received a “Christmas box” gift from their employers.

Nowadays, for many, it’s another Christmas Day in which families and friends celebrate together.

15307 Mountstewart Christmas Event

Candle in the Window

Traditionally, a candle was lit and set in the window on Christmas Eve to signal a house open to the arrival of Mary, Joseph and the coming baby Jesus, after they had been refused so many rooms in Bethlehem before the birth.

That tradition still stands to this day but it has also been adapted for the modern Ireland of the 20th and 21st centuries.

Nowadays a candle in the window is also seen to represent a thought for the thousands of Irish emigrants around the world, celebrating their own Christmas away from the 32 counties. 

January 6th - Feast of the Epiphany

At a grand level the Feast of the Epiphany, celebrated on January 6th every year, is said to be a celebration of the physical manifestation of the baby Jesus.

In Ireland it’s generally seen as the official end of Christmas and a time to return to normality with the tree being taken down and decorations being boxed away for another year.

In some counties this date is also known as “Little Christmas” or “Women’s Christmas”, when the men of the household would prepare a dinner similar to that of Christmas Day specifically for the ladies. 


Of course families and local communities will have their own little traditions, silly and serious, so the list above is just a taster of what to expect if you celebrate the Christmas season on the Emerald Isle.

Wherever you are in the world, we wish you a wonderful Christmas and New Years! 

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