Celebration of Christmas in Ireland. Food and Traditions

A brief Overview

Seminar Paper, 2020

10 Pages, Grade: 2,0





1. Preparation for Christmas

2. Traditional Christmas Food
2.1. Christmas Cake
2.2. Christmas or Plum Pudding
2.3. Mince Pies

3. Christmas Traditions
3.1. Women´s little Christmas
3.2. 12 Pubs of Christmas
3.3. Christmas Eve Busking on Grafton Stree
3.4. Christmas Day Swim
3.5. Midnight Mass
3.6. Christmas Crackers
3.7. St. Stephen´s Day


Reference lis


When thinking about Christmas, the first things every one associates with it are being with the family, spending a lot of time together and not being alone. For almost everyone the Christmas feast is a season full of harmony, happiness, joy and not being stressed about anything that may bring up conflicts. This season everyone should be glad and thankful for what they have and try to avoid bad vibes.

This paper gives an overview of how the Irish celebrate Christmas and which traditional food and traditions make it so special to them. Starting by focusing on the preparation of Christmas and continuing with the traditional Christmas food and various Christmas traditions that the Irish are maintaining up to now.

1. Preparation for Christmas

In Ireland, the long-awaited Christmas season officially starts on December 8th, when `most villages, towns and cities start to decorate the streets with holy symbols, fairy lights and large Christmas trees´ (Longáin, 2013). The trees are usually placed in the middle of the community, where everyone can see them. Cribs, that display the birth of Jesus and the arrival of the three Kings, are placed in front of churches. Christmas is celebrated to remember the birth of Jesus Christ, who Christians believe to be the son of God. It is also the beginning of brightly decorated Christmas markets, which everyone loves to visit with their family and friends to enjoy some warm drinks and to feel the magic of Christmas. The Gaelic greeting for Merry Christmas is `Nollaig shona duit`.

The Christmas season officially ends on January 6th with the day of Women´s little Christmas. This tradition will be described in detail later.

2. Traditional Christmas Food

In Ireland there are various dishes served on Christmas that are very traditional for the culture and find their origin in the 19th century. The most common and famous meals in the Irish Christmas cuisine are now considered in more detail.

Beginning with the starter on Christmas Eve, which is in most households smoked salmon or prawns, soup or melon (DoChara, 2008). As main dish, traditionally a roast turkey, goose or ham filled with sage and onion stuffing will be served (Easy Food, 2018). The side dishes are usually roast or smashed potatoes, different kinds of vegetables, gravy, cranberry and bread sauce.

2.1. Christmas Cake

Let´s continue with the most famous Irish Christmas food, the Christmas cake. It is similar to the fruit cake because its main ingredients are dried fruits and spices that are supposed to represent the exotic eastern spices brought by the three wise men to the newborn King (Gallagher, 2019). According to some receipts, it is a three-day process of preparing and baking the cake but in the end, it will be worth it. As it is such a time-consuming process, it is important that all the steps are fulfilled in the right order. Here is a short description of the preparation:

On the first day of preparing the cake, different kind of dried fruits (e.g. sultanas, currants, raisins, glacé cherries, candied peel) are mixed together with lemon juice, some other spices and of course some Irish whiskey, that the fruits are going to soak in to get a moist cake at the end. The next day the cake tin is prepared with some baking paper and a sticky batter is made. After the batter is mixed with the fruits, everybody in the house stirs the batter and makes a wish because its tradition. Shortly after, the batter will be baked for three to four hours. On the 3rd day of the preparation the cake will be fed with whiskey by putting 5 or 6 holes into the cake and pouring whiskey above it. This procedure will be repeated once every week until Christmas to give the cake a buzzy and fruity flavor and to make the cake preserved for many months (Sinead Davies, 2018).

The cake will then be decorated with some holly or little Christmas trees and icing on Christmas Eve.

2.2. Christmas or Plum Pudding

Plum pudding has also been an Irish traditional dish since the 20th century. It is made four to six weeks before Christmas so that the flavors can enhance over the weeks. The main ingredients are a mixture of dried fruits, sweet spices and of course some good Irish alcohol (e.g. whiskey, sherry, brandy). The ´most important ingredient of all´ is Irish spout, it is `making this recipe truly Irish` (Irish American Mom, 2011). The pudding will be steamed in a crockpot or slow cooker for some hours. It can then be stored up to three months without spoiling and there is no need to freeze it (Irish American Mom, 2011).

On Christmas Day the top of the cake will be decorated with some holly and afterwards it is usually served with custard or lit aflame.

2.3. Mince Pies

Many centuries ago, mince pies were originally made with meat such as ´minced mutton or beef´ which ´was mixed with spices and suet and sometimes fruits´. Since the 16th century they have become a festive treat and the meat has slowly been replaced with fruits and nuts.

The decoration varies, as everyone bakes the lid in other shapes. Some for example, prefer the star shape which ´is thought to depict the star with the three wise men that are said to have followed to find the baby Jesus´ (Good Food Ireland, n.d.). There is also an oblong shape with a baby shaped pastry topping, that ´is a symbol of the new-born baby in his manger´ (Good Food Ireland, n.d.). And of course, there are many more shapes and toppings made.

Even more delicious meals are prepared during the Christmas Season for Christmas Eve, just as soda bread, spiced beef, or drinks like whiskey eggnog, mulled wine or a pint of Guinness (Irish Central, 2019).

3. Christmas Traditions

In Ireland, they have a lot of different Christmas traditions and customs. Some have been traditions for centuries and others have become part of the Irish culture only some years ago. This chapter gives an overview of the most known and common traditions.

3.1. Women´s little Christmas

The first tradition is `Nollaig na mBan`, which means Women`s little Christmas in Gaelic. It takes place every year on January 6th when the Christmas season is officially over. The night before, on the January 5th, known as `Little Christmas Night` or in Gaelic Achar an Dá Lá Dhéag (The Night of Three Kings), it is believed that all water, both indoors and outdoors, turned into wine about midnight (Newman, 2016, pp 205,212).

On Women´s little Christmas, the women are having their day for rejoicing, meaning they are not doing the household or any other chores, but they are going to drink and eat with their friends and enjoying their time off (Newman, 2016, p. 206). Instead of them, the men are doing all the household and the children parenting. It is also believed, that if the Christmas decorations are not put down on this day, there will be bad luck for the rest of the year.

Nowadays, this tradition is not as popular as it has been many years ago. Only little villages that retain to this custom, celebrate it.

3.2. 12 Pubs of Christmas

This tradition has developed over the years. It is ´an annual tradition in Ireland with groups of friends going on drinking routes all over the country´ (Harrington, 2016).

The groups are dressing up in Christmas jumpers and are choosing their drinking route by selecting 12 different pubs they want to visit this evening. In every pub, every single person must have a pint. As everyone is getting really drunk, it is usually a miracle, if everyone who starts in the first pub, ends up in the 12th pub.

There are also 12 rules, everyone needs to follow while visiting the 12 pubs. For example: ´Nobody is allowed use their phone´ or ´Speaking in a foreign accent´. (Rob, Stagparty, 2016) There are so many other funny rules existing, which make the 12 pubs of Christmas a night to remember.

3.3. Christmas Eve Busking on Grafton Street

This event has become a new tradition of the Irish culture, which was started by Bono & Glen Hansard. On Christmas Eve well-known Irish musicians, like The Script, Bono from U2 or The Edge, visit the Grafton Street in Dublin. They bring their instruments to sing songs with the people on the street, outside the Gaiety Theatre, and raise money for a homeless charity. Every year thousands of people are coming to Dublin to be part of the event and donate money because ´everyone deserves a home´ (Brennan, 2019). This event is famous for its good vibes and mostly because it is for a good cause.

3.4. Christmas Day Swim

This day has been part of the Irish tradition for over 40 years now (The Irish Times, 2018). It takes place all over Irelands coastline, with the most famous one at the Sandycove´s Forty Foot Beach in South Dublin, which is an all-day, ongoing event. At other parts of the coastline, for example in Bundoran; Fenit or Galway Bay this event is smaller because of less participants and is only taking place for a few hours.

On Christmas Day morning thousands of adventurous people are running and jumping into the cold water, most of them dressed up with Santa hats and Christmas jackets and sweaters. It is a spectacle for the people that are watching the swim. In most cases, the swimmers and the viewers are collecting money for the RNLI (Royal National Lifeboat Institution) or other charities. (The Irish Times, 2018).

After the freezing dip into the cold water, the participants can be proud and reward themselves with a warm and delicious Christmas meal.

3.5. Midnight Mass

Midnight Mass is celebrated on Christmas Eve and is attended by almost every single person living in Ireland. It is a big `social gathering where family, friends and neighbors you may not have seen all year come together and celebrate Christmas´ (Journey Through Ireland, 2015).

The churches are beautifully decorated with lights, holy symbols and cribs. Christmas carols are sung and, in some churches, there is even live music played (Irish Central, 2019).

The mass was usually held at 12 pm because it is believed that Jesus was born at midnight. But nowadays the mass is often, because of elder people and families with young children, held at 11 pm or earlier (O´Mahony, 2019).

3.6. Christmas Crackers

Christmas Eve in Ireland would not be the same without Christmas Crackers. Almost every household buys or even makes the crackers by themselves. They are placed on the dining table as a festive decoration and provide a lot of fun for every family member. They are available in different colors with or without glitter and normally come with little plastic toys, trinkets, jokes and riddles in them, and paper crowns that the whole family is wearing during the evening (Irish Central, 2019). The fun begins, when two people are dragging the ends of one cracker. A big bang will be produced when being pulled in half (Irish Central, 2019). The one who gets the bigger part of the cracker wins the price that is inside. The prices are usually little plastic toys, as already mentioned, but you can also buy more luxury crackers that contain e.g. high-quality jewelry or even alcohol (Irish Christmas Traditions, 2019)

3.7. St. Stephen´s Day

This day is also known as `Boxing Day´ or ´Wren Day´, also called ´Hunting the Wren` or `Going on the Wren` and takes place on the 26th of December. Traditionally, small groups of boys called the Wren Boys would go from house to house, usually houses that were known for their big generosity (Newman, 2016, p. 155), to collect money for the poor by entertaining the residents with dances and playing instruments. They used to bring a dead wren, which they killed with a stick, because ´it was usually easy to knock him over at night when blinded with a strong light´ (Newman, 2016, p. 154). They carried the dead bird on a bush or tree which they caught on Christmas Day as `it was believed that the wren betrayed Stephen to those hunting him when he flew from a bush in which Stephen was hiding` (Newman, 2016, p. 147).


Excerpt out of 10 pages


Celebration of Christmas in Ireland. Food and Traditions
A brief Overview
Munich University of Applied Sciences
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
celebration, christmas, ireland, food, traditions, overview
Quote paper
Emily Herkner (Author), 2020, Celebration of Christmas in Ireland. Food and Traditions, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/950924


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