Christmas Traditions in Ireland

Candle on the window

How do you celebrate Christmas in your country? Here are a few Irish Christmas traditions!


The Late Late Toy Show

A long- standing Irish Christmas tradition, the Late Late Toy Show is seen by many as the beginning of Christmas. The show is broadcast on Irish television at the beginning of December every year and it is a night that Irish families gather around their front rooms with excited children who are allowed to stay up late on this ‘special’ night.  The show features children from all over the country who have the chance to test and review new toys on the market. Lots of children also perform songs and other talents on the night.


Christmas Greetings

From early December, you will probably hear people wishing each other a ‘Merry Christmas’ or the Irish version ‘Nollaig Shona Duit’ which is pronounced as ‘null-ig hun-a dit’. Impress your Irish friends and give it a go!


The Candle in the Window

During December, you may notice that many houses in Ireland have a lighted candle or candle decoration in the window. This tradition began as a symbol for welcoming Mary and Joseph as they traveled and sought shelter. It also signified a safe place for priests to perform mass as during the Penal Times this was not allowed.



Traditionally, decorations are put up on 8th December, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. Most households will have a Christmas tree decorated with lights, tinsel and baubles, a holly wreath on the front door and other green, red and gold decorations scattered around the house. People originally started putting holly wreaths on doors as holly was the one plant that flourished at this time of year, meaning that even the poor could decorate their houses at Christmastime.


Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve

This is a huge social gathering where family, friends, and neighbours come together and celebrate Christmas. Christmas carols will usually be sung by a choir who are often accompanied by live music.  The tradition of midnight Mass in Ireland is a great place to catch up with old friends and family who may have come home to celebrate Christmas.


Christmas Morning Swim

A Christmas tradition that is only for the bravest of souls, the annual Christmas morning swim is something that has been very popular in Ireland for many decades. At the Forty Foot swimming area near Dun Laoghair  in County Dublin, large numbers brave the cold weather and form an orderly queue to jump into the very cold Irish Sea. Many people who take part are also raising money for various charities.


The Panto

An annual outing for many families, the Christmas Pantomime is a show that children and parents alike look forward to all year. Centred around a well-known story or fairy tale, the ‘Panto’ as it is called usually involves lots of music, laughter and audience participation. A combination of slapstick comedy and topical humour means that the Panto can be enjoyed by the grown-ups just as much as the children!


Christmas Dinner

Probably the biggest meals you will eat all year, the typical Irish Christmas dinner consists of roast turkey, stuffing, ham, gravy, and vegetables such as brussel sprouts, peas and carrots and finished off with typical Christmas deserts such as pudding or trifle, a layer of spongy jelly with custard and cream. Most families cook so much food that there is enough food left over to be reheated again the following day, St Stephen’s Day and you will also probably be offered a turkey sandwich in every house you go into for days afterwards!


Women’s Little Christmas (Nollaig na mBan)

The 6th January, or the Feast of the Epiphany, commemorates the arrival of the three Kings or Wise Men at the crib. It is seen as the last day of Christmas in Ireland and is the time when all seasonal decorations are usually taken down. Doing it any earlier or later will bring bad luck, so the superstition goes, unless you leave them up for a full twelve months!

This day is also known as Women’s Little Christmas or ‘Nollaig na mBan’ pronounced ‘null-ig nu mon’. Traditionally, the woman of the house was given a day off after the twelve days of cooking and acting the hostess. Instead, the men would take over family responsibilities while the women went out with their friends. This still happens today and is probably the only day of the year when bars and restaurants are full of groups of women with very few men to be found. See you out there girls!


Whether you are in Ireland or elsewhere this festive season, the team at CEC would like to wish you a very Merry Christmas and Happy and Peaceful New Year!

We re-open for classes on 4th January 2016, see you all next year!


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