Christmas in Ireland: Saints, Scholars and Leprechauns

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Christmas in Ireland

Grafton St in Dublin – In Dublin and Galway and many other cities in between, the people of Ireland mark the Christmas season in a surprisingly low-key manner.

People around the world love to celebrate their “inner Irish” on St. Patrick’s Day, but the people of the Republic of Ireland do not celebrate every holiday with the fervor of a heel-kicking leprechaun.

One surprise of Ornamentshop.com’s global tour of Christmas traditions around the world is Christmas in Ireland.  The Irish have a quiet and solemn regard for this holiday. On Christmas Eve, for example, many Irish families place red candles, decorated with sprigs of holly, in their windows. This tradition serves as a tribute to Mary and Joseph, who wandered the streets of Bethlehem, with only dim lights illuminating their search for shelter.

In the most traditional Irish homes, the candles are lit by the youngest member of the household – in recognition of Jesus being the youngest member of the Holy Family – and are extinguished by a girl whose name is “Mary,” which is a common name among Irish girls.

Christmas in Ireland: Celebrations Continue On St. Stephen’s Day and Three Kings Day

As you might expect during Christmas in Ireland, churches are usually full on Christmas Eve. Then families celebrate with a feast of grilled fish, lamb and of course potatoes, the country’s most popular vegetable. Sir Walter Raleigh, an English explorer, discovered the potato in South America and brought it to Ireland, where it remains as ubiquitous on Irish tables as cabbage.

Filling dishes are passed around to celebrate Christmas in Ireland straight through December 26, or St. Stephen’s Day. On this day, according to Irish folklore, a wren betrayed the Irish army by pecking on a drum in an enemy camp and waking the sleeping soldiers. Another story holds that a wren betrayed St. Stephen while he was hiding from the enemy.

This “hunting of the wren” called for the Irish to find and kill a wren to symbolize the death of one year and the birth of a new one. People carried the dead wren from home to home, singing carols to horns and harmonicas. Appreciative homeowners would reward the carolers with a treat and get a wren feather in return for good luck. Some Irish families still observe this custom, but they use a fake, stuffed wren instead of the real thing.

Christmas in Ireland comes to a close on Three Kings Day, which is also known as “the little Christmas.” On this day, the decorations come down and children scramble for foil-wrapped candies and cookies that may have graced their Christmas tree.

Read more about this “land of saints and scholars” at Ornamentshop.com. And to stay on the good side of the leprechauns – those grumpy and mischievous shoemakers – be sure to share it with your friends and family on Facebook and Twitter.

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