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13 New And Old Irish Christmas Traditions

13 New And Old Irish Christmas Traditions

There are some mighty Irish Christmas traditions. There’s some fairly weird ones, too.

From Nollaig na mBan and the Wren Boys to Midnight Mass and the morning swim, Ireland has it fair share of festive customs.

And, as is the case with Irish slang, traditions during Christmas in Ireland tend to vary greatly depending on which part of the country you’re in!

Below, you’ll find a mix of new and old Christmas traditions in Ireland. Dive on in!

Irish Christmas traditions

Irish Christmas traditions tend to fall into two categories:

  • The ones that most people follow (e.g. putting up a Christmas tree)
  • Old traditions that are practised less and less (e.g. the Wren Boy)

In this guide, you’ll find a good mix of new and old traditions that take place at Christmas in Ireland.

1. December 8th

Christmas day in Ireland

Photo courtesy Tipperary Tourism via Ireland’s Content Pool

Ah, good aul December 8th. There are two Irish Christmas traditions associated with this day that are still alive and well in Ireland.

The first is the putting up of the Christmas tree; we were always told as kids that December 8th was the day when you were officially ‘allowed’ to start decorating your house.

Now, of course some people put their tree up waaay earlier, but it’s from December 8th that you really notice trees shining bright out of the windows of homes across Ireland.

The second tradition associated with December 8th revolves around shopping. On this day, many people living outside of Dublin travel to the capital to do their Christmas shopping.

2. Christmas Decorations

Dublin at Christmas

Photos via Shutterstock

This leads me onto tradition two – popping up Christmas decorations around the house. So, some people will just stick up a Christmas tree in the corner of their living room, and that’ll be it.

Others will place tinsel and fat little ornaments of Santa around their living room and in many places on the ground floor of their home.

Now, this tends to be done to different extremes. Some people go all out and decorate their home so brightly and extravagantly that you can see it from space.

3. Nollaig na mBan/Little Christmas

Little Christmas Nollaig na mBan

Photo via Shutterstock

January 6th is traditionally when Christmas in Ireland comes to a close – the tree comes down and all of the festive gear goes back up into the attic.

However, on this day, one of several old Irish Christmas traditions takes place – Nollaig na mBan (AKA ‘Little Christmas’ or ‘Women’s Christmas’).

This custom was born during a time when the running of a home was left to the women of the house. Over the Christmas period, a lot of work would go into cooking, decorating and keeping the house ticking over.

January 6th was, and still is in some parts of Ireland, a day when all of the work that was done over the festive period was/is celebrated.

The chores would pass to the men of the house and the women would meet up with friends.

4. Placing a candle in the window on Christmas Eve

Candle in the window during Christmas in Ireland

Photo left: Igor11105 top right: JayDeeSweden. Bottom right: helovi (Canva)

Next up is one of the more common Christmas traditions in Ireland – the placing of a candle in the window on the home on Christmas Eve.

This tradition that has spread right the way around the globe thanks to the many Irish immigrants that have set up shop far and wide.

This tradition dates back hundreds of years and takes place on Christmas Eve after the darkness of the evening sets in.

Before settling in for the evening, many homes will light a solitary candle and place it in their window.

I always remember as a kid ringing my Nan and Grandad for a chat on Christmas Eve and they’d ask if we had our candle in the window yet.

5. The Christmas Day Swim

Christmas day swim

Photo courtesy of Professor Chaosheng Zhang

One of my favourite Christmas traditions in Ireland that I absolutely do not take part in is the Christmas morning swim.

Many friends and families in Ireland have a tradition of meeting on their local beach on Christmas morning for a paddle.

As you can imagine, the weather in Ireland is pretty chilly at this time of year and the water is icy cold!

These days, many people take part in the Christmas morning swim as part of a charity fundraiser.

6. Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve

Galway Cathedral

Photos via Shutterstock

Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve (December 24th) is another of the old Irish Christmas traditions practised by many.

Now, although Midnight Mass was traditionally held at Midnight, it’s now, in many places, held at 10:00.

I’ve heard many different stories over the years about why this was moved back to 10… if you rack your brain for a minute, I’m sure you can probably guess why.

Apparently, some people would head off for a few drinks and arrive at Midnight Mass worse for wear… translation: they arrived at Mass pi**ed, and you can’t be having that.

It’ll be at mass, or also in the home, that many Irish Christmas blessings are passed on.

7. The Wren Boys

If you’re looking for weird yet wonderful Irish Christmas traditions, look no further than the Wren Boys tradition, which some say is tied to Irish mythology.

The tradition of the Wren Boys takes place on December 26th, otherwise known as ‘St. Stephen’s Day’ (Boxing Day in the UK), and involves the hunting of a fake wren and popping it on top of a pole.

The ‘Wren Boys’, dressed in straw suits and wearing masks then walk through the local town or village playing music.

Two of the more notable Wren Day celebrations take place in Miltown in Clare and in Dingle in Kerry.

This is one of the old Irish Christmas traditions that many tend to have never stumbled upon.

8. Decorating town centres and public places

stephen's day ireland

Photo courtesy Tipperary Tourism via Ireland’s Content Pool

During Christmas in Ireland, many towns and villages are decorated in some way in the weeks and, in some places, months before Christmas arrives.

In Dublin, decorations start to go up at the beginning of November, with decorations getting more and more lavish in the weeks before December.

Related read: See our guide to the best Irish Christmas songs

9. Christmas Markets

Christmas markets Ireland 2023

One of the newer Christmas traditions in Ireland revolves around lively festive markets.

Christmas markets in Ireland are a relatively new arrival. Many towns and cities across Ireland now boast their very own Yuletide Market.

The most notable are the Galway Christmas market, the Dublin Castle Christmas market, the Belfast Christmas market, Waterford Winterval and Glow Cork.

Although each market tend to vary in size, they all tend to offer the same thing. Those that visit can expect stalls laden with festive food and drink, crafts and local produce.

Related festive read: Check out our guide to 13 facts about Christmas in Ireland

10. Pantos

Dublin Panto 2023

Photo left: Shutterstock

As a kid, I always used to go to a ‘Pantomine’ (Panto for short) with my Nan in Dublin.

If you’re not familiar with Pantos, they’re a kind of musical comedy that take place on stages of various sizes.

They were originally developed in the Uk but they’ve been popular in Ireland for many years.

One of the most notable Pantos in Ireland takes place in the Gaiety Theatre every year.

11. Christmas Cakes

Irish Christmas Cake

Photo via Shutterstock

Another of the many Christmas traditions in Ireland that I have fond memories of is the making of the Christmas cake.

I always remember my Nan, in the week or so after Halloween, starting to make her Christmas cake.

This was one of those events that always signalled that Christmas was en route.

An Irish Christmas cake is a rich cake that contain anything from fruit and nuts to mixed spices and more.

They also contain a good slug of Irish whiskey and are topped off with a thick head of marzipan icing.

12. Festive Pints

irish birthday toasts

Photos via Dan and Molly’s on FB

Second last on our list is the tradition of meeting friends for festive pints. When I was younger, nights out at Christmas weren’t tradition – you’d be meeting them anyway.

Then, as the years went on, you start to meet with friends less and less. Usually, it’s because those friends have moved abroad, either recently or many years previous.

Festive pints is a mighty tradition that often take place back in your home town or village. Old groups of friends get back together and memories, good and bad, are shared.

13. Christmas Dinner

Irish Christmas foods

This is one of many Christmas traditions in Ireland that isn’t just exclusive to our little island.

If you read our Irish Christmas foods guide, you’ll know that Christmas dinner plays a key part on the big day.

On Christmas day, dinner tends to be a big event in many homes in Ireland. The time that it’s eaten at and the food that’s served will vary depending on county and family.

In my home, in Dublin, myself, my Dad and my mad little dog Toby sit down to a Christmas dinner that’s made up of vegetable soup to start, turkey, ham, stuffing, veg and every kind of potato that you can imagine for main and then something sweet for dessert.

At some tables, particularly for families with strong Irish roots, you’ll hear Irish toasts made.

FAQs about old Christmas traditions in Ireland

We’ve had a lot of questions over the years asking about everything from ‘What are some weird Irish Christmas traditions?’ to ‘Which are common in the USA?’.

In the section below, we’ve popped in the most FAQs that we’ve received. If you have a question that we haven’t tackled, ask away in the comments section below.

What are some weird Christmas traditions in Ireland?

Arguably two of the most unique Irish Christmas traditions are the Wren Boys and Nollaig na mBan, both of which date back many years.

What happens at a traditional Irish Christmas?

On Christmas Day, many attend Christmas morning mass followed by a meal with family that contains everything from roast turkey and potatoes to Christmas and more (traditions change family-to-family).

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