Little known Irish Christmas traditions and their origins

TheLanyon HotelBelfast

Little Known Irish Christmas Traditions and Their Origins

Every family has its very own Christmas traditions, some involve opening one Christmas present on Christmas Eve or even older ones like leaving milk and cookies out for Santa and a carrot for Rudolph. Not all traditions apply in every household so to compare we investigated some little known Irish Christmas traditions and discovered the origins of popular ones adopted across the world.

The Laden Table

After Christmas dinner is served and eaten most of us simply lie back and watch magical Christmas movies or enjoy playing with our newly acquired Christmas gifts.

One Irish Christmas tradition, however, involves resetting the dining table with bread and milk.

The Laden Table is observed in the hopes that, should a weary traveller, such as Mary and Joesph, come calling, there would be a small meal and shelter provided for them.

Little Christmas

Some of us are reluctant to take our Christmas decorations down after Christmas and others do it as soon as they wake up after Boxing day.

Irish Christmas tradition dictates that decorations remain displayed until Little Christmas, the 6th of January, and only after someone named Mary visited could the decorations be taken down.

Anytime after this and it’s said that the rest of the households year would be fraught with bad luck.

The Candle in the Window

Perhaps a tradition that has been around for years, the candle in the window may look lovely and might be something you and your family do every Christmas.

The origins of this tradition, however, began in Ireland where those who placed a candle in the window were doing so to symbolise a welcome to those in need.

The tradition began in relation to the story of Mary and Joseph searching for somewhere to stay in Bethlehem and went on to become a way for the poor to know that there would be food and shelter provided in the homes that displayed a lit candle.

During difficult times of religious strife Catholic priests weren’t allowed to perform mass and so the candle in the window became a beacon for Catholics to follow knowing mass would be performed on the premises.

The Significance of Mary


The name Mary was extremely popular in Ireland, obviously relating to the Virgin Mary and the countries strong Catholic heritage.

The tradition of the candle in the window would involve needing a Mary doing the lighting and only a Mary could put out the candle when the season was over.

During Little Christmas, mentioned above, Christmas decorations could only be removed after a Mary visited the house. This would usually occur on the 6th of January.

The Wren Boy Procession

“The wren the wren the king of all birds, St Stephen’s Day was caught in the furze, Her clothes were all torn- her shoes were all worn, Up with the kettle and down with the pan, Give us a penny to bury the “wran“, If you haven’t a penny a halfpenny will do, If you haven’t a halfpenny, God bless you!”

The origins of The Wren Boy Procession vary, one tells of a Celtic myth that says the wren was a symbol of the past year and that catching or killing the little bird is a good omen for the year ahead.

Another is that a group of villagers were setting to ambush British soldiers in a village when a wren pecked upon a marching drum and gave the game away. Hence why the wren is killed. This theory also extends into Norse history where the wren gave away a gang of Irish soldiers planning to ambush Viking invaders.

Today The Wren Boy Procession doesn’t involve killing a bird and mounting it on a pole, however, parades, dances and going door to door gathering money still occurs. In many cases, the proceeds gathered during The Wren Boy Procession go towards a community dance one night early January.

Holly Wreath

Something every household has done one time or another is the hanging of a holly wreath on the front door for Christmas.

In fact, there are now plenty of places where families can get together to make their own.

The tradition, old as it is, actually started in Ireland when the less fortunate would use the flourishing holly to decorate their houses.

Holly was one of the only winter plants that grew in Ireland and the festive colours and evergreen appearance made for the perfect start to a long-standing Irish Christmas tradition that has been adopted by the world.

St Stephens Day

To most of us, Boxing Day is when you go to the Christmas sales or visit relatives you didn’t see on Christmas day.

The Irish Christmas tradition of St Stephens day falls hand in hand with the Wren Boy Procession and in the present day is also referred to as Wren day.

As well as the aforementioned Wren Boy Procession, St Stephens day is also a day to visit as many friends and relatives as possible.

For some Irish families, St Stephens day is when they go and see a play or pantomime or attend street festivals and fireworks displays.

Business closing over Christmas and New Year

This is one Irish Christmas tradition we’d like the UK to adopt and that is the recognition of a week-long holiday between Christmas and New Year.

Most people book the holiday off and others don’t need to as the majority of Irish business’ close their doors from the 25th – 30th.

Let’s hope this like other Irish Christmas tradition, becomes globally recognised in the near future.

Christmas Day Swims

. . . and this is one Irish Christmas tradition the Irish can keep.

The Christmas day swim involves taking a dip in the Irish sea, the most popular starting point for the swim being the Forty Foot Rock on the Southside of Dublin Bay.

Thousands are said to take part in Christmas day swims which have, over the last forty years, become popular ways to raise money for charity.

Not only are the coastal seas filled with merry Christmas swimmers but rivers and lakes also get their fair share too. Many of the events are organised and provide hot drinks and mince pies for those taking part.

We are looking forward to making some new Irish Christmas traditions at The Crum which will be an amazing place to enjoy Christmas stays with the family.

Once completed the superb central location will allow guests to easily visit family or get together during the holidays. The Crum is hoping to become the perfect Belfast hotel to stay and enjoy some of the renowned Belfast festivities leading up to Christmas.

Keep up to date with us here or follow our Facebook page to see the progress of The Crum’s development.

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