The top ten Irish Christmas traditions


One time of the year seems to bring out the carnival spirit in the Irish more than any other: the seven short days between Christmas and New Years. If you’re a first time visitor to the country you’ll be amazed by the hectic social round of parties, gatherings, rituals and dances that mark this week in the Irish calendar.

Of course, this being Ireland, there are centuries old Irish traditions to follow too, if you want to spend your Christmas like a local, that is. Here’s Irish Central’s list of 10 Irish Christmas Traditions that will give your gathering a distinctly Celtic atmosphere no matter where you celebrate it this year.   


1. The Unwanted Sweater

The first portent of an Irish Christmas is the sending of an Unwanted Sweater. Hand knit and presented in recycled wrapping paper, its arrival heralds Christmas like the first swallow heralds spring.

Some people will swear that your old aunty Mary hand knitted it for you but the truth is much more sinister. There is, in fact, only one toweringly terrible hand knitted sweater in the whole of Ireland and it’s passed on in secret from house to house, in the dead of night, by a chain of cackling elderly women until Christmas Day, when it mysteriously vanishes, only to reappear again one year later.

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2. The Fashion Melt Down

You know you’re having an authentic Irish Christmas when you witness a full-blown Fashion Melt Down, although most Irish women (and men) have closets that avalanche when you open them, Christmas week is prime time for an annual Fashion Melt Down. Just as there are five stages to Elizabeth Kübler-Ross’s model of grief, there are five distinct stages to an Irish fashion melt down.

Stage 1: Denial. “These Prada boots work with this Lainey Keogh dress, don’t they? Of course they do! Don’t they? I won’t have to buy new things, will I? Well, will I?”

Stage 2: Anger. “I have nothing to wear! Why do I have nothing to wear? Why am I so poor! I look like Susan Boyle! Why did I marry you! I have nothing to wear! It’s Christmas! Waaahhhhhhhh!”

Stage 3: Shopping. “Look at this, there’s ten percent off these brand new Prada Boots! I can wear them with this brand new Lainey Keogh dress! Why are you making faces at me! They do not look the same! Why are you being so unhelpful?”

Stage 4: Elation. “I’m going to knock them all dead in this right off the runway number. Why didn’t we start shopping earlier? Yes, I can see it’s expensive! Oh, live a little, it’s Christmas!”

Stage 5: Disillusionment. “That man in the rumpled suit was my first love, believe it or not, and in my memory no one can touch him. But now he’s fat and bald and drunk and completely full of himself and he didn’t say a word to me all night. I hate Christmas. I really do. It’s a huge waste of money.”

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3. The Class Reunion

A truth universally acknowledged is that thousands of Irish emigrants fly home to Ireland at Christmas to spend the holidays with friends and family. That makes it the perfect time for a high school reunion and – despite every instinct you to do otherwise – thousands of Irish people do attend them every year.

Remember how you once made fun of little Annie Moore’s prominent teeth? You don’t? Well she does, boy howdy, and she has the therapist’s bills to prove it. Now her future wellbeing depends upon reminding you of the fact. Do you realize how awful you were? And remember big Rory O’Connor, the strapping hurling star with the shock of red hair that you once doted on? Well he’s gay now and he swears that dating you made him come to terms with the fact (ouch). Merry Christmas! Mine’s a Jameson!


4. The Candle In The Window

Can there be an image of hope and fellowship more simple or affecting than the sight of a candle in the window on Christmas Eve? The Irish place them there on Christmas Eve as a symbol of welcome to Mary and Joseph as they travelled looking for shelter. This being Ireland there’s a historical aspect to the tradition to: the candle also indicated a safe place for priests to perform mass because during Penal Times this was not allowed. A light in the dark, it’s a simple but affecting symbol of hope.