According to history, it appears that Irish Christmas traditions began with the English monarch, Henry II, who is thought to be responsible for introducing Christmas celebrations to Ireland. In Hogges, an Irish village, a large traditional hall was built by King Henry II. In those times, many festive events took place in this village which also witnessed those who were loyal to the English King, participating in traditional plays.
The many customary rituals that take place at Christmas are not all religious, but they are still seen as an essential part of Irish Christmas traditions. However, one of the oldest customs relates to Christmas Eve and is an emblem of when Mary and Joseph were looking for shelter on their journey to Bethlehem. To portray this, every Irish home displays a lighted candle in the window, which has to be lit by the youngest family member and doused by a girl bearing the name of “Mary”.
During the evening of Christmas Eve, once the meal had been eaten, bread made with caraway seeds and raisins was placed on the table together with plentiful milk for anyone travelling by. This reminiscent Irish tradition provided benevolence to travellers in need of sustenance, and one that provides the significance of this festive time of year.
Similarly, in rural Ireland, a pagan custom at Christmas is to paint any outbuildings with white, indicating a sign of purification. This Irish Christmas tradition appears to have originated from the early Mesopotamians. The purification ritual is also depicted by replacing curtains and bedding with new ones.
Another custom which began in Ireland was having a sprig of holly placed on your door. It is thought that this took place prior to the tradition of having a Christmas tree in the house
Although Christmas has taken on a more modern, commercial appearance, the spirit of nostalgia and history are still upheld with the Irish Christmas traditions. This can be noticed by the generosity shown to those in need, at this time of the year.
Christmas in Ireland is celebrated from Christmas Eve through to 6th January, the feast of Epiphany, and this is when all the Christmas decorations are taken down.