Top 10 Irish CHRISTMAS TRADITIONS

It’s that time of year again! Let us help you get into the festive spirit with ten Irish Christmas traditions.

10 Irish Christmas traditions.

The festive season is in the air, and many are getting excited for the Christmas festivities that lie ahead.

From watching Christmas classics by the fire to gathering once again with family and friends from all over the world, many of us have favourite Yuletide traditions which lie close to our hearts.

Read on to find out more about some Irish Christmas traditions that have stood the test of time.

10. Nollaig na mBan – also known as Women’s Christmas

Three women toasting with glasses of champagne.
Credit: Pexels/ Inga Seliverstova

Known also as the Feast of the Epiphany, 6 January is called Nollaig na mBan, or Women’s Christmas, in Ireland.

Traditionally, this would have been the day when women would get together and enjoy the festive period, while men would stay home to handle the chores.

Such strict gender roles are not so commonplace in modern-day Ireland, but for centuries, this custom remained.

READ MORE: Women’s Christmas: the history of Nollaig na mBan in Ireland

9. A candle in the window – an ancient tradition

A lit candle beside a window, depicting one of our ten Irish Christmas traditions.
Credit: Flickr / Greg Williams

The act of placing a lone, lit candle in the window on Christmas Eve is one of the oldest Irish Christmas traditions.

This symbol of Irish hospitality represents a warm, inviting home and harkens back to the story of Mary and Joseph, who looked for shelter after being turned away from the inn.

Some have also speculated that the candle is a way of remembering the millions who emigrated from Ireland in search of a better life, many of whom never returned.

It is said that this tradition was also rife in Ireland during penal times as a subtle invite to passing priests that they could come to say mass in the home.

8. Seeing the Christmas displays in Brown Thomas – a Dublin staple

Grafton Street, Dublin, including Brown Thomas department shop, covered in decorative lights.
Credit: Ireland’s Content Pool / Fáilte Ireland

Each year, Grafton Street gets even busier, with shoppers stopping to take a peek through the windows of Brown Thomas.

Every December, the high-end department store adorns its flagship store with a lavish Christmas display.

While it might be out of most people’s budgets to grab all your Christmas shopping there, it’s certainly a sight to behold and sure to get you in the Christmas spirit.

7. Decorating the crib − the nativity in the home

A nativity scene with with figures in colour. Decorating the nativity scene is one of our ten Irish Christmas traditions.
Credit: Flickr / Marco Verch Professional Photographer

A staple in many Irish homes, setting up the figurines of Mary, Joseph, and the baby Jesus in his crib has long been an Irish Christmas tradition. 

Although this is a Catholic tradition all over the world, helping to place the nativity figurines in their stable is a fond childhood memory for many Irish people.

6. Christmas Day swim – when crowds gather at the Forty Foot

People preparing to jump into the sea at Dublin's Forty Foot.
Credit: Pixabay / Maurice Frazer

The popularity of cold-water swimming has exploded in recent years, with many touting the benefits it can have on health and wellness. But some Irish folk have been getting involved long before it was cool.

For many Dubliners (and some from farther afield), the holidays wouldn’t be complete without the annual Christmas Day swim at the Forty Foot in South Dublin.

This long-standing tradition goes back centuries and can prove to be an invigorating (if freezing!) start to the Christmas Day festivities.

5. Midnight mass − with carols included!

A church full of people celebrating midnight mass, one of our ten Irish Christmas traditions.
Credit: Flickr / Patrick Sweeney

Although there are people of all faiths and none living in Ireland today, the largest denomination remains the Catholic Church, and for many, going to midnight mass will be a Christmas Eve staple.

Many will have memories of bundling up in hats and coats and venturing into the crisp night air on their way to midnight mass with their family.

Although your grandmother will most likely remember when midnight mass actually did begin at midnight on Christmas Eve, most modern parishes hold the service at the more sociable hours of early evening. Still, the title has stuck.

4. Christmas markets − mulled wine is a must

A group of people visit the continental market in Belfast.
Credit: Tourism Northern Ireland

Christmas markets have long been a popular activity during the festive period. But in recent years, their popularity in Ireland has exploded.

Dublin has multiple markets to choose from and attracts thousands of visitors every December. Belfast’s annual Christmas Market is set against the festive backdrop of the iconic City Hall, which is alight with twinkling lights.

Visitors flock to sample some tasty treats, soak up the atmosphere, and pick up unique Christmas gifts for loved ones.

3. Newgrange at the Winter Solstice – an ancient Irish tradition

Light coming through Newgrange. Visiting this neolithic site is one of our ten Irish Christmas traditions.
Credit: Ireland’s Content Pool / Tourism Ireland

Many Irish people hope to get the chance to visit the ancient neolithic site of Newgrange around 21 December in order to experience a unique spectacle.

The ancient burial chamber, which is older than both Stonehenge and the Egyptian pyramids, is aligned perfectly so that it will be lit up only once a year: the winter solstice.

Although not much is known about this mysterious site, it is believed that the structure was of great spiritual importance for early Irish people.

You can apply for the annual ‘lottery’ via the Newgrange website to be in for a chance to experience the spectacle yourself.

2. The Guinness Christmas advert – how you know the festive season has truly begun

For many in Ireland, the festive season doesn’t truly start until they hear the words ‘Merry Christmas’ whispered at the end of this iconic advert.

This nostalgic advert is full of festive anticipation and has been making the rounds on Irish television for years. One quick look at the comments on YouTube makes it clear just how much it still means to people.

1. Wren Day – an unusual Irish Christmas tradition

People dressed in colourful clothing celebrating Wren Day on 26 December, one of our ten Irish Christmas traditions.
Credit: Ireland’s Content Pool / Fáilte Ireland

In what may be one of the wackier Irish Christmas traditions, Wren Day (Lá an Dreoilín) is an Irish festivity that takes place on 26 December. 

This tradition consists of acting out the ‘hunting’ of a wren while crowds of people (known as ‘mummers’) parade around town in colourful costumes.

It’s as wacky as it sounds but also a fun and festive way to mark the waning of the festive season.  

Wherever you are in the world, we hope that you are able to take a bit of Ireland with you by incorporating these Irish Christmas traditions into your own winter season. Merry Christmas!

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