Like me, you may have grown up in an Irish household and had these same Irish Christmas traditions. You likely smelt the sweet smell of a turkey roasting in the oven. Or devoured an excess amount of duck fat roast potatoes (this was a personal experience, haha). Well, I will share the wild and common Irish Christmas traditions that we all share or at least might share.
But before we get into it, I wanted to share this lovely Irish Christmas blessing:
A lot of Irish Christmas traditions have changed over the years. Of course, some people still get the RTE guide and sit around together looking at what movies are coming up. There is something wonderful about discovering a classic Irish Christmas movie on TV.
In Ireland, the buzz of Christmas usually signals the start of the festive season for many, but the official holiday vibe kicks in on December 24th. While some Christmas traditions might feel familiar, Ireland brings its own unique flavour to the celebration.
Our holiday season isn’t just a one-day affair. It spans a generous two weeks, from the anticipation of Christmas Eve to the joy of Epiphany on January 6th, a date lovingly dubbed ‘Women’s Christmas’ around these parts. To be fair, Christmas nowadays starts on December 1st. Or Christmas Season, as I like to call it. At least, it did for me this year.
So, I decided to list 15 typical Irish Christmas traditions that happen every year.
Irish Christmas Traditions:
- 🌊🏊♂️Sea swim – In recent years, a more modern tradition that has gained popularity in Ireland, particularly on Christmas Day, is the practice of taking a plunge into the sea for a swim. This event, known as a “Christmas Day Swim” or “Polar Plunge,” involves people—often in festive costumes or swimwear—braving the chilly waters of the Irish Sea or Atlantic Ocean for a brief swim.
- 🍻🍺🍻12 Pubs of Christmas – It sounds exactly as it sounds. You meet a bunch of buddies and go pub to pub, having a pint in each pub. It typically involves different games at each pub. These can include ordering a pint without using words, only drinking a pint with the left hand, not using anyone’s name and talking in a foreign accent. Those who break the rule must either down their pint or drink a shot. A night that is best done a few days before Christmas.
- 🦃🍗The traditional Irish Christmas dinner – An Irish Christmas dinner is a medley of meats, potatoes in all their glory, a rainbow of veggies, and the occasional regional surprise that makes it a true celebration of flavours and family tradition. While this varies from family to family, your typical traditional Christmas dinner is:
- Main dishes: Roast turkey, sometimes boiled ham, and in some areas, goose or duck.
- Side dishes: Various types of potatoes (roast🤤, mashed, gratin), Brussels sprouts, carrots, turnips, and other veggies.
- Sauces: Gravy is common, and some families have cranberry or bread sauce.
- Specialities: Regional treats like spiced beef might also make an appearance.
- 🎄 Decorating the Christmas Tree – Gather friends or family members to decorate a Christmas tree together. It’s a festive activity involving ornaments, lights, and perhaps a bit of friendly disagreement on the perfect placement of decorations. This tradition has seemed to get earlier and earlier every year. Many get their tree and decorate it now in the first week of December. Fun Christmas fact: Have you ever wondered about the origins of tinsel? Originating in 1610 in Germany, tinsel wasn’t the modern shiny plastic we know; it was shredded silver. The leading manufacturer, Brite-Star, has produced enough tinsel to stretch from Earth to the moon – an impressive feat! Yet, the inventor of tinsel remains a mystery to this day.
- 🕯️Sunday Mass – Be it midnight mass or Sunday morning mass(in your best new clothes, of course), every year we were
dragged, I mean willingly, taken to church on Christmas day.
- Little Women Christmas 🎄 – Let’s not forget about the incredible women who do the majority of the work around the Christmas period. Firstly, praise to you all! On January 6th, ‘Nollaig na mBan’, or Women’s Christmas traditionally celebrates the role of women. In older times, Irish women would meet in each other’s homes to sew and have a bit of craic. However, it’s mostly died out. Nowadays, the ladies all dress up and head out on the town for a few drinks and great craic.
- St Stephen’s Day 🎅🍻– Now, my birthday is on the 27th of December, and my name is Stephen. So yes, you can, of course, guess where my Irish mother got my name! Stephen’s day is officially on the 26th of December. And a LOT of people tend to hit the town for drinks and to meet up with friends after Christmas day. This is a great day for celebration, but I prefer not to head out and go out for my birthday 😂.
- Light a big, sturdy candle on Christmas Eve 🕯️– On Christmas Eve, it was a common tradition in numerous Irish households to place a tall, robust candle on the windowsill of the main window once the sun dipped below the horizon. This candle, left aglow throughout the night, symbolized a guiding and hospitable light, evoking the spirit of welcome for Mary and Joseph. This is one Irish Christmas tradition I did not do, but I think I will start this year.
- Kiss under the mistletoe 😚 – I wanted to include this because it is a common misconception that Irish people or Irish households do this. While mistletoe does grow in Ireland and holds significance in folklore and mythology, the custom of hanging it for the purpose of kissing under it is not as prevalent in Irish Christmas traditions as it is in some other countries. Irish Christmas traditions often focus more on gatherings, feasting, and family-centered celebrations.
- Irish Christmas Food Traditions 🤤 – I am literally getting hungry while writing this article. There are a few Irish Christmas traditions that are still very much part of Irish Christmas. These include eating mince pies, opening a box of celebrations(or roses, devouring multiple bags of taytos and having some Irish whiskey(or Baileys).
- Eat Christmas Pudding🍰 – I don’t know why, but I don’t enjoy Christmas pudding. I never did and never will, I think. This is probably partly because I am absolutely stuffed from eating two portions of dinner. Christmas pudding, or “plum pudding,” is a cherished dessert gracing Irish tables. Rich in tradition, this dense, dark pudding features a blend of dried fruits, spices, and spirits. Some households make their own; mine was bought down in the local SuperValu for around €5. Often ignited with brandy or whiskey when served, this delectable pudding, accompanied by a luscious sauce or cream, concludes the festive meal with a sweet and nostalgic touch.
- Leave some Guinness for Santa 🥕 – In Ireland, just as in North America, the tradition of leaving goodies for Father Christmas is upheld with enthusiasm. Irish households often set out mince pies, biscuits (cookies), and occasionally a slice of cheese with crackers for Santa’s indulgence. However, what sets Ireland apart is the extra touch of hospitality – some families leave a drop of Guinness or Murphy’s Stout, recognizing that the journey is chilly work. And lest we forget Santa’s trusty reindeer, Rudolph and his companions are treated to juicy carrots, the preferred snack for these magical creatures on Christmas Eve. Santa always seemed to enjoy those Guinnesses more than milk.
- Eat leftovers in a delicious Christmas sandwich 🥪 – You’ve probably gained a few kilos in the days leading up to Christmas, so why not indulge in a delicious Christmas sandwich? Leftovers from the Christmas feast are a cherished part of the holiday tradition in Ireland. The day after Christmas is often referred to as St. Stephen’s Day. Cold slices of succulent roast turkey or ham find their way into sandwiches, paired with stuffing and cranberry sauce for a flavoursome bite. Just make yourself an Irish coffee and sit back and relax.
- Hang the Christmas wreath on the front door – By now, you can see this list is clearly not in any particular order. But did you know Irish people actually invented the wreath on the door? In ancient Celtic traditions, holly and ivy held significant symbolic importance and were believed to possess protective and magical properties. Holly, with its evergreen leaves and bright red berries, and ivy, with its trailing vines, were commonly used to decorate homes, especially during the winter solstice, to ward off evil spirits and bring good luck. This practice of adorning doors and windows with holly and ivy likely influenced and contributed to the later tradition of using evergreen wreaths during festive seasons, including Christmas, as these plants were already associated with protection and bringing positivity to households in ancient Celtic beliefs. Over time, these traditions evolved and became intertwined with Christian celebrations and the modern-day customs of decorating homes during the holiday season. Oh, and by the way, we also invented Halloween!
- 🎄 Christmas Markets and Fairs: In Ireland, the festive season often includes visits to charming Christmas markets and fairs. These events offer a delightful array of artisanal crafts, seasonal treats, and mulled wine or hot chocolate stalls. Families and friends gather to enjoy the vibrant atmosphere, indulge in local delicacies, and shop for unique gifts, adding an extra touch of merriment to the holiday season. I always find the mulled wine helps me relax 😂
What Irish Christmas traditions do you embrace? 🎄🥕🍻🎅
There you have it, 15 Irish Christmas traditions I am sure you or someone you know partakes in. If you said yes to all 15,, please let me know in the comments.
As Christmas unfolds upon us, it is a time to celebrate and spend time with family. But also enjoy the whole festive season! From the mighty craic at the 12 Pubs of Christmas to the traditional feast of succulent meats and rainbow-hued veggies, Irish homes resonate with laughter and culinary delights. The flickering glow of candles on Christmas Eve evokes ancient tales, while the joyous rituals of decorating trees and hanging wreaths echo centuries of symbolism.
Irish hearts remain aglow with the spirit of giving, whether through Santa’s treats or the warmth of leftovers enjoyed in delightful Christmas sandwiches.
As the stars twinkle on St. Stephen’s Day and the tales of holly and ivy unfold, the narrative of Irish Christmas traditions echoes the resilience of traditions passed down through generations.
In this festive celebration, the essence of Ireland shines, blending ancient lore, familial togetherness, and the spirited embrace of the holiday season. Nollaig Shona Duit! (Merry Christmas to You!)