Christmas is a very big deal in the Republic of Ireland. Few countries celebrate it as enthusiastically or spend as much money in preparation for its arrival. The people of Ireland collectively love Christmas, pouring a huge amount of effort and attention into the winter festival. Naturally, this makes Ireland an ideal location for foreign visitors to spend their Christmas holidays. Those travelling to Ireland throughout the festive period can expect a first class Christmas experience.
Unlike in most countries, the festival of Christmas actively begins on 8th December in Ireland. This is the traditional day on which Irish families decorate their homes and commence preparations for Christmas Day, including baking and present shopping. It is also the day on which public authorities erect Christmas trees in squares and outside town halls. This early December start is often preceded by several months Christmas advertising, both in shops and in the media.
Although life in Ireland is becoming increasingly secular, the country remains predominantly Catholic. This fact is reflected by the way the Irish people treat Christmas. The festival continues to possess religious significance throughout the country. Many Irish families incorporate a nativity scene or crib into their home’s seasonal decorations and attendance at Church services is huge throughout the Christmas period. The holiday sees a massive resurgence of faith amongst the Irish.
Christmas may remain a fundamentally religious festival in Ireland, but that doesn’t prevent it from being a big economic event as well. The Irish people spend on average 4,000 Euros per year on Christmas, which amounts to 16 billion euros in total. To put this into perspective, this is nearly ten percent of Ireland’s gross domestic product and it is generated within a few days of Christmas shopping.
At home, Ireland’s families celebrate Christmas in a similar way to the rest of the western world.Traditionally, presents are given in the morning and this is then followed by a meal of roast turkey or goose and Christmas pudding. In some areas, unique local Christmas delicacies are also consumed during the festive season. For example, in Cork and the surrounding area, spiced beef is eaten as the traditional Christmas meal.
Some Christmas traditions in Ireland have their roots deep in Ireland’s pre-Christian gaelic past. Christmas coincides with the biggest celebration of the celtic calendar (the rebirth of the sun). The ancient Irish observed rituals and ceremonies that were created in order to mark this joyous occasion. Therefore, 25th December was celebrated long before Christianity arrived at the shores of Ireland.
The ancient pre-Christian traditions have largely disappeared from Ireland today, but in some locations, gaelic rituals have survived. One example is Wren Day, which takes place on 26th December. Participants dress in straw hats, colourful clothing and masks. They hunt small birds known as wrens. When a wren is caught, it is placed on the end of a pole and paraded through the streets accompanied by traditional gaelic music. Successfully capturing a wren is said to ensure a future year that is fertile and fruitful for local inhabitants.
Guest post from David who is an employee of the Sandymount Hotel, in Dublin, Ireland. He is, like most, very fond of Christmas with all the food, drink, presents and family it brings with it.