Here's a look at how the Irish managed to infuse a proper dose of craic into the Christmas holiday!

On Christmas morning all over Ireland, there will be countless people thanking their lucky stars. Not because they're looking forward to presents or Christmas dinner, although I’m sure both are appealing.

No, rather it is because they know that once Christmas arrives they no longer have to suffer the wrath of a vicious 12 Pubs of Christmas hangover. Santacon may be turning many places in the US into a drunken mess, but, as per usual, the Irish come out on top in terms of how to properly have the craic this Christmas time.  

The 12 Pubs of Christmas is a now annual tradition in Ireland that has taken the country by storm over the past decade or so.

Originally, only the most dedicated of drinkers would take on the difficult task, but more and more we’re seeing all sorts of Christmas parties join the fray – from office parties, big and small, to friends and family reunions.  For some unlucky souls out there, this means they could be in for two or three rounds of the 12 Pubs before December is out.

For anyone not familiar with the 12 Pubs of Christmas, it is essentially an extended bar crawl. Over the course of an evening you, along with your brothers and sisters-in-indulgence, visit 12 bars and attempt to have a drink in every one of them.

“Christmas jumpers” or sweaters and Santa hats are usually the uniform of choice for the soldiers of the 12 Pubs, and every weekend in December in Ireland, you will see drunk Santa Clauses and Mrs. Clauses in every town in Ireland.

Ho, ho, ho! Merry 12 Pubs of Christmas.

Ho, ho, ho! Merry 12 Pubs of Christmas.

Anyone who thinks that the hardest thing about the night is to drink 12 pints should think again – it is abiding by all of the different (and often creative) "rules" in each pub that is the true challenge. The rules of the 12 Pubs vary from one group to another, but all are surely in agreement that it is the rules that create all of the fun and the mischief on the night.

A common list of rules for the 12 Pubs might include:

  1. No drinking with your right hand in the first pub.
  2. No pointing at people in the second pub.
  3. No talking to anyone you know in the third pub.
  4. No sitting, resting or leaning in the fourth pub.
  5. No using the restroom in the fifth pub

 … and so on and so forth.

There is usually a maximum limit of 30 minutes per pub and a designated rule keeper with a whistle to keep the group on track.

Aside from landing on Santa's naughty list, rule-breakers might face penalties such as gulping down a large amount of your drink.

Of course, the further into the night you go, the harder it can be to enforce the rules or time limit. Nearly every 12 Pubs this author has ever attended has usually ended with a happy consensus to stay put around bar number six or seven, with fellow 12 Pubs-goers only too happy to enjoy the craic and merriment in the bar rather than brave the cold, rainy December weather in search of another.

There have been a few times that all 12 bars were visited, and for anyone who has managed to reach pub number 12, they know it is a badge of both honor and shame.

Undoubtedly, the 12 Pubs of Christmas is not the healthiest of ways to spend a December evening and sure it does play into stereotypes about Irish drinking habits, but I think in many ways that these criticisms miss the point of these kinds of events. The 12 Pubs should be viewed as a once (or twice) a year occasion, to mark the passing of another year, and share in each other's company around a special time of year. A 12 Pubs night is one that is always full of laughter and funny stories; it is a night of excess sure, but also one of great merriment.

So three cheers to the Irish tradition of the 12 Pubs of Christmas … and thank God it only comes 'round for one month a year!

Here's Niall Horan, a native of Mullingar in County Westmeath, explaining a little more about the 12 Pubs of Christmas:

* Originally published in Dec 2014, last updated in December 2023.