Irish Christmas Traditions

Posted by Neil Hand on the 19th of December 2014 at 10:09:33

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Christmas time is less than a week away, and we're getting very excited about it here at Tour Ireland. This post was very popular last year with our readers, so I've decided to share it with you all again. There are some great tips about what it's like to experience Christmas in Ireland below. Hope you enjoy them, and most of all, have a great Christmas 2014!


Feeling all Christmassy and festive, full of the holiday cheer, and with the house lit up like a Christmas tree (literally), I began to reminisce about some of the traditions my family (and indeed other Irish families) have over the festive period. I am sure that each family have their own traditions as well (ours was and is sitting in our new Christmas pyjamas on Christmas Eve watching It’s a Wonderful Life). Below are some more traditions that are still enduring in Ireland today…….


Advent - the four weeks prior to Christmas, once began in Ireland with a bucket of whitewash in one hand and a mop in the other! The men would carry out the painting outside while in-doors, the women would look after the interior. It is thought to date to pre-Christianity when homes were cleaned and repaired in time for the Winter Solstice. With the arrival of Christianity, the traditional cleaning was done to mark the arrival of the Holy Family. Today, this tradition continues, homes are cleaned and decorated in the weeks preceding Christmas with hardware and furnishing stores seeing a distinct increase in business!



One of my favourite traditions and a very old Irish one is the placing of a lighted candle in the window on Christmas Eve. Initially it was thought to have been started as a symbol to represent a guiding light for Mary and Joseph as they travelled looking for shelter along their journey. Later, during Penal Times, when masses were outlawed, it was a way to tell priests that they were welcome to perform mass in that house. The candle was supposed to be lit by the youngest family member and had to be extinguished by a girl named Mary – not hard to find in Ireland! More recently again, a candle has been lit in Aras an Uachtarain (House of the President) in the Phoenix Park in Dublin to represent our Irish diaspora. Most homes today will display a candle (usually electric) during the season in at least one down-stairs, street facing room. While the meaning may have changed over the years, the tradition is still alive and well.

Holly Bush

The holly wreath on the front-door is a very traditional and common Christmas decoration in Ireland. Holly is one of the few plants that flourishes here during the winter months and was viewed by the Celts as a symbol of protection. It has remained a steadfast fixture in Irish homes since those times (although it is now mainly used as a Christmas decoration) and can still be seen in our homes and on our doors during the festive period.

Wren Boys
(image from


THE WREN BOY PROCESSION Wren Day was celebrated on December 26th - St. Stephen’s Day. People would dress up in masks, straw suits and old clothing and “hunt” a fake wren which was put on top of a decorated pole (this used to be a real dead wren in earlier days). Accompanied by traditional music and to the beat of drums and tin whistles the Wren Boys went from door to door celebrating the wren and collecting money for charity. The origins of the Wren Boy Procession have long since disappeared. It’s possible that the custom descended from Celtic mythology (as so many Irish traditions are) although some believe it dates back to the Penal Times when a sleeping group of soldiers were about to be ambushed only to be saved by some wrens which sang and woke them, saving them from a ghastly end. Today, this tradition has by and large died out, however, some towns do still celebrate Wren Day, most notably Dingle in County Kerry.

Church window in Ireland

This is perhaps still the most popular and enduring of all traditions, when most people make their annual trip to their local church for mid-night mass. Arguably a more secular than religious occasion for many, it is a chance for friends and neighbours (all dressed in their Christmas best) to bond over the singing of hymns and carols and exchanging of season’s greetings. A magical time for adults and children alike, it is the one day/night of the year when all the community comes together to celebrate their blessings.

So just a little insight into some Irish traditions. We wish you and yours a very happy Holiday season and all the best for 2015
Nollaig Shona agus Athbhliain faoi Mhaise Daoibh!!!
(Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year)

PS. Don't forget to make your 2015 vacation to Ireland one of your New Year Resolutions!!

Get a Quote today as next year you could be in Ireland!


And if you are feeling all warm, fuzzy and festive, have a look at our Irish Seasonal Recipes which might be a treat for you and yours this Holiday Season!

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