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Irish Christmas Celebrations

“Christmas is coming, the goose is getting fat
Please do put a penny in the old man's hat
If you haven't got a penny, a ha'penny will do
If you haven't got a ha'penny, then God bless you!”


We all sang this Christmas rhyme at one time or another. This is as old as time and always makes me smile. I am going to share with you some of my favourite traditions. The traditions that I share with family and friends every Christmas.

Everyone has their own Christmas traditions. Many of them stem from cultural heritage which come from religious beliefs. Ireland being a predominantly Catholic country, many of our traditions are linked to the church calendar. Through the centuries these have changed and been influenced by different things: such as visitors to Ireland, the Irish emigrants returning and bringing aspects of their new lives with them. Some Christmas traditions are shared by those in several other countries.

The Late Late Toy Show

This is the start of Christmas in my house. RTE, Irelands broadcaster, airs this spectacular annual show on the last Friday night in November. It is what it says – a toy show on the Late Late Show. The Late Late Show is the weekly topical chat show similar to The Tonight Show in the US. Current host, Ryan Tubridy, wears a range of Christmas jumpers while chatting with a variety of children about toys. The children are given the toys in advance of the live show to review and then briefly discuss them with Ryan during the show. A variety of acts perform throughout the show. This year saw groups from across the country enact Beauty and the Beast scenes. It is a highly entertaining evening of television, perfect to kick-start the festive atmosphere.

Christmas Eve Mass

Mass on Christmas Eve is like no other in the year. It is midnight mass and worth the weight. A lot of families with older and adult children attend this service. Often there is live folk music and a choir. This adds to the uniqueness of this mass.

Christmas morning

Has Santa visited? What did he bring? The excitement!

The level of excitement on Christmas morning is most definitely determined by the ages in your household. A younger family will be up before dawn and exhausted by noon! The more mature family has the good sense to rise at a decent hour and have a big greasy fry up while preparation for dinner is being done. The men take the children out for a walk or to try out their new toys that Santa kindly brought to them, while the women congregate in the kitchen and cook the feast.

Another option has become very popular since the nineties – the Christmas Morning Dip. Many meet at designated beaches to go for a very quick swim in aid of charity. Last year the water temperature was 50°F or 10°C and air temperature was much lower!

Traditional Christmas Dinner

There is nothing quite like Christmas dinner. So much so that we eat turkey and ham on other occasions throughout the year. A roast turkey that is big enough to fill the oven is the centre-piece of the table. A baked ham with honey glaze is second in command. Bowls filled with mashed potato, roast potato, stuffing, parsnips, Brussels sprouts, carrots and broccoli sit around the meats. Jars of cranberry jelly and mustard along with a jug of gravy complete the line-up.

And then come the desserts…. Christmas pudding with brandy butter or custard or cream, a slice of Christmas cake, mince pies with cream, trifle with layers of jelly, fruit, sponge, custard and cream…. These are the traditional desserts. We add our personal favourites to the options: apple tart, lemon meringue pie, chocolate brownies - the possibilities are endless. Overeating is a given…

St Stephens Day

I call this the day of rest. Everyone is so busy on Christmas Day that St Stephens Day is a more relaxed day. It is a day to visit or be visited by relatives and friends. There is always a great selection of Christmas themed films to choose from. If you have the energy there is live music in many pubs. The night of St Stephens Day is one of the most popular nights out in the year.

The Tin of Biscuits

No house should be without a tin of biscuits at Christmas time. A recent survey showed that over 78% of Irish people associate a tin of USA biscuits with Christmas. A tin of biscuits is two trays of a selection of biscuits in a tin. The tradition is you cannot dip into the second layer until the first is completely eaten!

Selection Boxes

Christmas is not Christmas without a selection box. A selection box is a box eighteen inches long, seven inches wide and one inch thick. It is immediately recognisable to the discerning eye… i.e. me! The box contains a variety of chocolate bars. It is one of the most important elements of Christmas to Irish children – of all ages. As a child eating a chocolate breakfast was only allowed on Christmas morning and only from my selection box. Yum!

Christmas FM

Christmas FM is Irelands only Christmas radio station that broadcasts for the month of December. It operates on a temporary licence. Broadcasting began on December 1st 2015. It is entirely voluntary run and is a not-for-profit organisation. The music is all Christmas and holiday themed. Every year they nominate a charity and raise funds for them. this year is Make-A-Wish.

You can listen to Christmas FM around Ireland, online or on mobile. It is a great station that always puts a smile on your face. Have a listen, you’ll probably love it – I do.


Another must-see event of Christmas time is a pantomime. Drama groups in schools, communities and cities work very hard to stage the best production of their year. In Cork we are lucky to have both the Opera House and the Everyman Theatre that both host pantomimes. In Dublin the iconic Gaiety Theatre and the Olympia Theatre also stage pantomimes. Each theatre production is different. Cork Opera House is the venue for Beauty and the Beast, The Everyman has Aladdin, The Gaiety has Little Red Riding Hood and the Olympia has Freezin the Panto. The shows are based on fairy tales and traditional stories. The audience is mostly made up of family groups. It is an interactive experience! The stage ‘goodie’ gets the crowd to shout out when the ‘baddie’ is being bold This gets children and the crowd really involved in the whole production. Going to the pantomime is a great evening of family entertainment.

Happy Christmas!

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  • Kevin Jones
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