Kids’ Craic: Nollaig Shona Duit!
by Dottie Wenger
Kids in Ireland celebrate Christmas in a way similar to American kids. Gift-giving, good food, and spending time with family are all a part of an Irish Christmas. Here is what the Christmas season may look like for a typical Irish family:
The holiday kickoff
December 8th is when the Christmas season, and decorating officially begins
in Ireland. Christmas trees are a lot newer to Ireland than to the U.S. Before Christmas trees were widely popular, Irish homes were decorated with holly and ivy. The more berries on the holly, the better luck in the new year for the family.
Most families in Ireland belong to the Catholic faith, and attend midnight Mass. It’s also common for households to leave a candle in a window (electric candles, these days) to symbolize hospitality. Another sign of Irish hospitality on Christmas Eve is setting aside bread and milk, or sometimes mince pies and Guinness. It used to be customary to leave a door unlocked at night, but few households do that today.
Much like in the United States, Christmas Day in Ireland is a time for celebrating with family and friends, exchanging gifts, and feasting! A tradition for some is the Christmas Day Swim – often done to benefit a favorite charity; many brave people visit the Irish coastline and take a plunge in the chilly water wearing only swimsuits and Santa hats!
In Northern Ireland, this is called Boxing Day; in the Republic of Ireland it’s St. Stephen’s Day, named after the first Christian martyr. It’s an official holiday, and is often celebrated with a visit to church, some rest, and another feast. “The feast of Stephen” in the Christmas carol “Good King Wenceslas” was a reference to this holiday. Since St. Stephen is the patron saint of horses, there are also horse races on this date.
The last day of Christmas, it is traditionally known as Women’s Christmas, or Little Christmas. This was a day when women were to avoid all housework. The men of the family took down Christmas decorations (and it’s considered bad luck if the decorations are taken down before or after this date!) and prepared the family meals. It’s also the day of the Feast of the Epiphany.
Christmas Carol Trivia
One of the oldest Christmas carols, The Wexford Carol (“Good people all, this Christmas time, consider well, and bear in mind…”) is believed to have originated in County Wexford. It dates back to the Twelfth century!
Legend says that the “Twelve Days of Christmas” carol was sung as a way to remember the tenets of the Catholic faith in secret!
“Nollaig Shona Duit!” (pron. NO-lihg HO-nuh ghwich) “Happy Christmas!”
*Dottie taught kindergarten & second grade for thirty-two years. She now handles marketing & promotions for Yorktown Service Plaza in Parma Heights. In her spare time, Dottie is a baker extraordinaire, and also enjoys participating in 5K events and hiking with the Cleveland Hiking Club to offset collateral damage from her baking hobby.