Christmas in Ireland
Christmas in Ireland is the largest celebration of the year and lasts from 24 December to 6 January, although 8 December is traditionally viewed as the start of Christmas with many putting up their decorations and Christmas trees, along with doing their Christmas shopping.
The greeting for “Merry Christmas” in Irish is Nollaig hona Duit the literal translation of this is “Happy Christmas to you”.
Ireland is a predominantly Catholic island and, Christmas plays an extremely important role in both religious and secular aspects of Irish life. There are huge attendances at religious services for Christmas Day and Christmas Eve, with Midnight Mass a popular choice for Roman Catholics. In most homes in Ireland the traditional crib, along with the Christmas tree are part of a family’s decorations, and don’t forget the lighted candle in the window, decorated with holly, to light the way for Mary and Joseph along their journey to Bethlehem. The candle was a way of saying there was room for Jesus’s parents in these homes even if there was none in Bethlehem. Family and friends also give each other gifts at Christmas. In the older days Christmas Trees were less common as the houses were small and there just was enough room
The traditional Christmas dinner consists of turkey or goose and ham with a selection of vegetables and roast potatoes. Desert would traditionally consist of a Plum Pudding, served with brandy being set alight and poured over it. The Plum Pudding would be cooked months ahead and hung in gause – in a cold place – to season and for all the fruit flavors to intensify. The table would be set with Christmas Crackers – party favors – Christmas cake, yule log and mince pies with equally rich sauces such as brandy butter. On Christmas Eve fish is traditionally eaten as a form of fasting before Christmas.
Grafton Street, one of Dublin’s main shopping streets during the Christmas shopping season Irish people spend more and more money each year on celebrating Christmas. Still every town had their own “Grafton Street” for those who could not make it to the big city.
Today, Christmas trees are erected by public authorities. The village of Slane had a Christmas tree inserted in 2008 for the first time that decade. Christmas trees officially go up on 8 December because according to Christian tradition the immaculate conception was on this date. Trees are a relatively new concept in Ireland. Fifty years ago few families had trees and the children found their gifts on the end of their bed Christmas morning. Back then Santa was called Father Christmas today Santa is recognized universally.
Almost the entire workforce is finished by lunchtime on Christmas Eve or often a few days beforehand. Christmas Day and St. Stephen’s Day are public holidays and many people do not return to work until the next week day after New Year’s Day. On St. Stephen’s Day the tradition is for the younger children to dress up in costume and “Hunt the Wren” Here they would entertain their neighbors with a tune or a dance in hopes of a few pence contribution to “bury the wren.”
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The Legend of St. Patrick and Irish Shamrocks
St. Patrick was born to a Roman family (living in Wales-according to most authorities) when he was kidnapped as a young boy. From there he was taken to Ireland and sold to an Irish Chieftain. Here he was put to tending to sheep on Sliabh Mish. One night he had a vison, instructing him to escape to a place where he would find a ship to take him to freedom. He followed his vision, and eventually studied in Rome and became a priest. Many years had passed when he had a second vision, of the Irish people calling him to return and bring them hope.
St. Patrick returned to Ireland around the year 432 A.D. He began to travel the land, bringing the news of Christianity for all who would listen. Paladius had made the trip before him (about 60 years before) but had little success in converting the pagan Irish. St. Patrick , having spent his childhood amongst the Irish, was well versed in the Irish culture and found ways to incorporate the pagan customs into the new Christian ideals. The native celts were finely in tune with nature where
springs and wells represented the source of water and therefore life. St. Patrick blessed these wells and the
once location of many pagan rituals became newly ordained Holy Wells.
Shortly before the Feast of Bealtaine (The Festival of Fire) a major Celtic tradition, St. Patrick visited the hill of Slane, Co. Meath. In keeping with Celtic customs, no one was supposed to light any fire before the king, and all subsequent fire should be lit from a flame from that fire. Here, surrounded by a large group of local natives, he began to explain the Holy Trinity, and took a shamrock from the ground to explain the concept of three persons of God.
As part of the Easter Celebrations, he lit the Pascal fire, and preached to his new converts to Christianity. On a distant hill at Tara, the Kings advisors, the druids, warned that if Patrick’s fire was not extinguished immediately it would burn for
centuries. It was on that night, over 1,500 years ago, that the tiny shamrock became a major iconic symbol for the Irish race, a tradition that continues to this very day.
The shamrock, with it’s three tiny leaves is always associated with the Irish and the story of St. Patrick. It is often confused with clover. The shamrock is usually smaller than clover but shamrocks and clover, all belong to the pea family. The term “shamrock” is derived from the Irish word, seamrog which translates to “Summer Plant.” Shamrocks usually grow on mossy banks and are of a vine type plant, known as “medick.” Any Irish person will quickly know exactly where to find one. The Irish will tell you they only grow in Ireland and with the same breath explain that St. Patrick drove the snakes from Ireland over 1,500 years ago.
About Irish Eyes
Irish Eyes of Va., has been the consistent hub of the Irish Community in Fredericksburg for 31 years. Each year Bernadette and Mike travel back home to Ireland to select a host of unique and hard to find treasures from Ireland’s leading artists and craftspeople.
A visit to the store is truly a unique Irish Experience. The store is bursting with gift ideas, from Celtic Weddings, to home décor and everyone on your list for gift-giving occasions. The Heraldic Research Center is a must see, rated as one of the best, not only in the U.S. but worldwide.
Your Hosts at Irish Eyes of Va., are Bernadette and Mike Esler. Bernadette hails from the little town of Gort, County Galway, while Mike had his early beginnings back in Longford. Bernadette will proudly take you on a journey back to the “Auld Sod” as she walks you through her store looking for that perfect selection that will be treasured by the recipient for years of enjoyment. When it comes to your Celtic Roots, Mike has the background and experience. With computer technology and hundreds of out of print reference books we can give you well researched factual information as you embark on an adventure to reacquaint yourself with your ancestral legacy. Mikes work is proudly mounted in Embassy buildings, Manor Houses and residential homes around the world, and is now offered to you. Why not pay us a visit and see where it leads you?
Located halfway between Washington and Richmond on Interstate 95; Fredericksburg is one of America’s most Historic Cities, of the Civil War Era. Childhood home to George Washington, Historic Downtown Fredericksburg is steeped in early American History. Irish Eyes of Va. Is located right in the center of town with brick paved sidewalks, historic buildings and Pear Blossom lined streets, the atmosphere is set for a stroll back in time – even back to the “Auld Sod” with a visit to Irish Eyes.