Irish Christmas traditions and where did they start?

Our reporter Gavin Mc Stay delves into what Christmas was like back in the day and where some Christmas traditions came from.

In 21st Century Ireland, Christmas could be considered a month-long celebration with the likes of Christmas parties and Christmas shopping happening long before Christmas even comes around. The previous generations celebrated Christmas in many different ways than we do now. Back in the days, Christmas was the of the year when everyone took a break from their working days, and everyone rejoiced as a family together. Nowadays, there are not many jobs that allow people that break at Christmas time. For the likes of retail workers or people who work in the bar/restaurant industry, Christmas is the busiest time of the year. The actual excitement of Christmas and the build-up to the occasion is often far greater than the occasion of Christmas itself.

December 8th

For many people in Ireland, the Christmas season begins the night that The Late Late Toy Show is broadcast on RTÉ. In Catholic terms, the Christmas season begins on December 1st as it’s the start of Advent. December 8th is also an important date as it marks the Feast of the Immaculate Conception and is usually used as a day for some pre-Christmas shopping. In the 1950s, children were given the day off school so that their parents could take them on a day out to Dublin to see the Christmas lights. This trend continued for many years but in recent times, there has been a decline in this shopping tradition due to the growth and development of more regional local shopping centres and retail parks. The reliance of online shopping and the growing popularity associated with Black Friday have made the tradition decline even faster.

The local town markets

Back in the early 20th century, before the existence of online shopping and shopping centres, many of the rural families were unable to go to Dublin to Christmas shopping. To combat this, there would be a big Christmas market that was known as ‘An Margadh Mór’. Rural people would sell hens, eggs, geese, turkeys and so on before Christmas. In those days, the woman of the house oversaw dairy and poultry produce and any money she earned was known as her “pin money”.

With the money they made, people would go into their local shopkeeper and ‘get in the Christmas’. The pre-made boxes would contain tea, spice and sugar, dried fruits, candles, sweets, clothes and other household goods. The shopkeeper would also add in some extra tobacco, cake or extra bottles of whiskey.

Letters from America

Family members who had emigrated to America would usually send letters home to their loved ones. These letters were keenly anticipated by the families at home in Ireland. Many of them contained money and some shop-bought clothes as well as toys or trinkets. These letters were sent as in the past it was rare that an emigrant family members would return home for Christmas.

Present day Ireland

Christmas has changed quite a lot over the years. Nowadays, Christmas is known as a celebration where all the family sit together and have a big Christmas dinner and enjoy some drinks. Santa comes on Christmas morning with the excited kids leaving out carrots and milk for Santa and his reindeer’s on Christmas Eve before they go to bed early so that they’re asleep for when Santa arrives. Christmas morning is a buzz of excitement as the children rush downstairs to see what Santa has brought them in return for them being on the ‘Nice List’.

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