Friday 30 September 2016

An Irish Christmas: homegrown traditions that set us apart

Clodagh Finn

Published 24/12/2015 | 02:30

Putting a candle in the window is a tradition that is said to date to Penal times when it signalled a safe place to say Mass. At Christmas, the candle was often lit by the youngest child in the house and put in the window to welcome the baby Jesus. Photo: Depositphotos
Putting a candle in the window is a tradition that is said to date to Penal times when it signalled a safe place to say Mass. At Christmas, the candle was often lit by the youngest child in the house and put in the window to welcome the baby Jesus. Photo: Depositphotos

1 December 8 - December 8, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, was the day the 'culchies' traditionally invaded the capital to look at the lights, visit Santa and do their Christmas shopping.

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One story has it that there was biblical rain on the day the shops first opened on a holy day in the 1950s - a sure sign of devilish wrongdoing. Countryfolk, though, have been coming in their throngs for considerably longer than that: in December 1913, the Herald (then the Evening Herald) wrote - rather uncharitably - about the "incursions from the country" to the capital at Christmas.

2 Candle in the window

Putting a candle in the window is a tradition that is said to date to Penal times when it signalled a safe place to say Mass. At Christmas, the candle was often lit by the youngest child in the house and put in the window to welcome the baby Jesus.

3 The Wren or The Wran on St Stephen's Day

There are many explanations for Wren Day, but in all of them the poor little wren emerges as an evil traitor whose chattering betrays the hiding place of an Irish saint/warrior/hero. On St Stephen's Day, the wren was traditionally hunted down by a rag-tag band dressed in straws who sold the bird's feathers for good luck. It's still a tradition, particularly in Dingle, Co Kerry, and Sandymount in Dublin, though no wrens are harmed in the making of good-humoured merriment which usually raises money for charity.

4 Jacob's USA biscuits

You couldn't have a real Irish Christmas without a tin of Jacob's USA biscuits and a scrabble for the pink wafers among the 14 varieties of biscuit spread over two tiers. They've been a staple in Irish cupboards since 1918 and, according to Food Ireland, the name was inspired by America's entry into World War I.

5 Reading 'The Dead' by James Joyce

Reading James Joyce's stunning short story The Dead is a singularly Irish way of marking Epiphany, the day the story takes place. This year, actor Aidan Gillen will read at Smock Alley Theatre in Dublin (from January 5 to 9) accompanied by live music composed and performed by Feargal Murray.

6 Nollaig na mBan

Women's Christmas is celebrated on the day the decorations come down on January 6. The origins are obscure but the tradition is strongest in the south where women would visit each other's houses to chat and eat. The idea that women would down tools and let men do all the housework is a recent addition, though celebration of the day itself is enjoying something of a revival all over the country.

Irish Independent

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