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Irish Christmas Customs
This tune is an ancient Celtic tune,  played on the Harp. In the 18th & 19th centuries, it was still being played, and young women of the Gentry were encouraged to learn to play the harp and harpsichord or spinet piano.  This is a tune which might have been played in a parlor during the Holidays in the towns of Wexford & Dublin. It is called "Harvest Home".

 Here are some very interesting Irish Customs that allows us to how folks prepared and celebrated Christmas in those bye-gone times, and many folks may indeed still keep these old Irish Traditions for Christmas in Ireland.  

From the book, "The Year in Ireland", by Kevin Danaher

1. Prepare spiritually. From the beginning of advent, add prayers to usual devotions.

2. Children should say additional Paters and Aves and to count them (counts of 5,000 are cited)

3. Be especially sure to be "a hardy annual" and be sure to go to church.

4. Many days before the festival clean house and farmyard thoroughly.

5. Men clean outbuildings and yard entrances passageways and surroundings. White-wash all buildings inside and out.

 5. Women sweep, wash and clean the house.

6. Do major laundering- include everything.

7. Clean tables and chairs with sand. Clean pots and pans.

8. Children survey the countryside for holly, ivy, bay and other evergreens for later cutting.

9. Holly with berries is especially prized. Make Ivy garlands. Whiten ivy berries with whiting or starch.

10. Cut colored paper scraps into adornment and use needle and thread to string loose holly onto linen in patterns or seasonal mottoes.

11. Purchase decorations from a peddler or traveling person.

12. Make a small cross of holly sprigs or crossed pieces of wood.

13.Where mistletoe is found you can decorate with it and the girl kissed under it receives a gift from the boy.

14. Just before Christmas go to the town to "bring home the Christmas"- go to the Christmas market for this purpose (the Margadh  "big market").

15. Receive a gift from a shopkeeper- a "Christmas box".

16. Country people give produce from the farm to townspeople.

17. Town Folks give town goods to country folks.

18. Prosperous farmers give portions of a slaughtered animal and other donations of

food to their friends, poor and workpeople.

19. Make Poitin. Make sure you have at least a quart available.

20. Lay in a good supply of fuel for heating.

21. Obtain a special log - bog deal, the "bloc na Nollag". (Yule Log)

22. Clean the Chimney using a prickly bush pulled up and down.

23. Purchase a chance on a mutton. (lottery drawing)

24. Hold a "join". Every man contributing a small sum-toward liquid refreshments and have a pleasant evening of talk, song, and storytelling.

25. Make Christmas Cake- Note - this needs to be done in advance!


Christmas Eve

1. Return home for Christmas.- to the parents house on Christmas eve.

2. Finish work by midday on the Eve and get home before night-fall.

3. Bring presents to father and mother and to younger brothers and sisters.

4. Send an "American Letter" to your family in Ireland containing cash.

5. Finish the last preparations- the final sweeping and cleaning and preparations from festive food.

6. Prepare the most elaborate dinner of the year for Christmas.

7. Roast of Boiled beef- the most popular dish: spiced beef.

8. Boiled Ox head was the favorite dish in Armagh, Tyrone, Monaghan and other places in the north.

9. Wealthy farmers of Leinster and Munster prepare fowl: chicken or goose, bacon and mutton, cakes, puddings, and pies.

10. Prepare puddings on Christmas Eve for final cooking on Christmas Day.

11. Make Cutlin pudding in County Wexford (like English Christmas Plum Pudding).- a porridge of wheaten meal and sugar, dried fruits and spices are added. Make this into a ball as big or bigger than a football and wrap it for boiling.

12. Make a Christmas pie in the shape of cradle decorated with strips of pastry to represent the manger in Donegal.

13. Light Christmas candles at night on Christmas eve. With a prayer.

14. Place large candles into sconces made from a turnip or piggin filled with bran or flour. One for house holder , one for wife and one each for the grandparents. Little colored candles for the children .

 15. Decorate all candles with holly.

16. Let candles burn all night extinguishing them just before the first mass.

17. One big candle: coinneal  ("na Nollag") can be displayed.

18. Candles are lighted at 6 0'clock and the angelus is said.

19. Light three candles in honor of the Holy Family - or a three branched candle.

20. Have the youngest person light the principal candle.

21. If the principal candle goes out for some reason it is a bad omen - possibly of the death of the head of the household.

22. Candles are lighted to show the way to Joseph and Mary.

23. Leave doors open on Christmas eve.

24. Have a candle in every window.

25. Leave the table set for three persons.

26. Leave a bowl of water out to be blessed by the travellers - this water will be used for cures.

27. Put on a good fire before bed.

28. Sweep the floor.

29. Put bread on the table.

30. Leave a candle for each of the family who has died since last Christmas - to welcome them in.

31. Take the children to a high place to show them all the candles.

32. Observe Christmas Eve as a fast day. If you eat, it should be stockfish-hake, cod or ling with white sauce and potatoes.

33. End fast after candles are lit well before midnight.

34. Cut the Christmas cake and make tea, punch and other beverages.

35. Give sweets and apples to the children.

36. Gather the family around the fire.

37. Remind children that an angel stood on every spike of holly leaves this night and all nights.

38. No prayer will be unanswered on Christmas eve.

39. If you die on Christmas Eve you will go right into heaven.

40. Place a small wreath of holly, yew or other evergreens on family graves especially on the grave of one who had just died.

41. Fire a salute from a shotgun at noon on Christmas Eve. A "grussenschuss".

42. At midnight leave the cows and donkeys to kneel in adoration of the Christ.

43. Feed animals sheaf corn or branmash.

44. Decorate byre and stable with evergreens and provide a special lantern there.

45. Children tie sprigs of holly on cow's horns.

46. The cock will crow on unusual times - to hear him crow at midnight will be a good omen.

47. Cold weather with frost or snow will indicate a mild spring with absence of illness.

48. A green Christmas makes a fat churchyard.

49.  When it snows on Christmas Eve, Geese are being plucked in heaven.

50. A new moon on Christmas Eve was very lucky.


Christmas Day

1. Spend it at home.

2. Have a quiet Christmas.

3. Stay away from the homes of others.

4. Go to church-early mass if possible-before dawn.

5. Take a wisp of straw from the crib to bring luck and blessing.

6. Women cook Christmas dinner after church.

7. Men and boys remain outside out of the way busy with sport-hurling - a big village match. The match can be begun at the church gate - bring hurleys to church.

8. Use a specially made hurling ball with a small tin box of loose shot inside for a louder sound.

9. Hunt hares with greyhounds or harriers.

10. Have a shooting match.

11. Drink three sips of salted water before dinner for good health.

12. Sit around the fire after dinner with song and story.

13. Listen for a cricket on the hob (hearth) and have a sign of good fortune.

14. In the North East of Ireland, some Scottish Puritans do not celebrate Christmas.

15. Listen to the waits called "good morrow, good morrow, good morrow, past twelve o'clock; a fine frosty morning" view the performances and reward the performers.

16. Go to a hill and blow a loud salute for Christmas Morning using cows horns.

17. Sing carols.


Source: Danaher, Kevin, The Year in Ireland; The Mercier Press, Cork, 1972.


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This Web Site was created & prepared by Teddie Anne Driggs 1999/ 2000 / 2001