Christmastime in Dublin

Christmastime in Dublin

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By Tracy O’Dwyer

Imagine nearly two weeks when all but the most necessary chores are set aside. When family is reunited. When the hospitality of the house is open to all.  When friends and neighbours gather around your fireside for long evenings of storytelling, music and reminiscing. That's what you can expect during Christmastime in Dublin , from the Nativity to Epiphany.

In Ireland, many of the traditions of our forebears are still important, and practised in most households. In our Dublin home, my Irish husband and I bring together our best Christmas traditions from generations past.

For, truth be told, our Christmas focuses on our Catholic religion. Despite the encroaching secularist materialism that surrounds us, Christ is the ‘Reason for the Season,’ first and foremost in our home.

Imagine nearly two weeks when all but the most necessary chores are set aside. When family is reunited. When the hospitality of the house is open to all.

The Beginning of Christmas

Of course, I’m American and so when after Thanksgiving my mother’s care packages arrive filled with everything for a yummy Christmas holiday feast of treats, that’s my own beginning of the Christmas season. It’s American Sweeties you’ll get from my kitchen — Christmas Wreath cookies, Church Windows, fudge, truffles and our all-time favourite, Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cupcakes!

 

It’s American Sweeties you’ll get from my kitchen — Christmas Wreath cookies, Church Windows, fudge, truffles and our all-time favourite, Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cupcakes!

Traditionally, the start of Christmas in Ireland is on December 8th, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception and so we attend Mass.  (In most Irish households,  this is also the day when Christmas decorations are brought down from the attic.)
On that day, Dublin City Centre is crowded with people from every part of Ireland. The Christmas lights go up along Henry Street and Grafton Street, and the shops make special efforts to create beautiful seasonal windows. Irish children look forward to meeting Saint Nick in Dublin’s two most famous department stores, Clery’s in O’Connell Street and Arnott’s in Henry Street.

Traditionally, the start of Christmas in Ireland is on December 8th, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception and so we attend Mass.

We all love the Live Animal Crib near The Mansion House on Dawson Street, a   life size stable that contains a donkey, a sheep and a goat.  Early each morning the animals are brought to the stable and each evening the animals are returned to a farm on the south side of the city.

It's one of our favourite Christmas traditions as a family. Our annual visit to the Crib  serves as a good reminder of what Christmas is really all about, not only for our family but for many families across in Ireland.

A Crib is also a very important part of our at-home tradition. It’s usually placed under our Christmas tree or on the fireplace mantel.  Of course, the manger  remains empty until the little figure of Baby Jesus is placed there with great reverence on Christmas Morning. (But, I’m getting ahead of myself…)

Christmas Eve

On Christmas Eve, a lighted candle is placed in Irish windows to welcome the wayfarers, Mary and Joseph. The candle is usually lit by the youngest among us. Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve is always packed, although these days it’s more likely to take place at 10.00pm.

Each person in our family receives a special Christmas ornament, representing something special that happened within the year. The first year we were married, I gave Liam a beautiful silver Church to represent our sacramental marriage in the lovely Irish countryside.

On Christmas Eve, a lighted candle is placed in Irish windows to welcome the wayfarers, Mary and Joseph.

 

Christmas Day

Irish families wake up early on Christmas morning, as the thrill of opening presents remains for all ages of children. (Our daughter, now 16, still wakes us up at the crack of dawn!)

To sustain everyone through Christmas Day, we have a ‘fry-up’  — a ‘Full Irish Breakfast.’ Sausage, black and white pudding, rashers (bacon), eggs, mushrooms. That, plus a hot cup of tea or coffee will keep you going until Christmas dinner in the darkening hours of the later afternoon.

Though the Irish generally cook turkey, in our Irish-American household we’ve already had our fill of that bird after Thanksgiving. So Liam makes a Christmas Feast of filet mignon, roasted carrots and Irish roasted potatoes and the most amazing gravy. I have added a little Americana in recent years — green bean casserole, cranberry salad and my own homemade stuffing.

Christmas Morning ‘fry-up’  is a Full Irish Breakfast — sausage, black and white pudding, rashers (bacon), eggs, mushrooms.

St. Stephen’s Day

The 26th of December is celebrated as St. Stephen's Day in Ireland. This day is equally important for socialising.  For most Irish households, it’s a very sociable day, when visitors may call in to share some seasonal foods or drinks. We visit with relatives, friends and neighbours and exchange presents, often food and drink.  There is great movement throughout Dublin and all of Ireland on this day as families venture out in the frosty air to visit cousins, aunts, uncles and grandparents.

As an American, I rather quite enjoy that St Stephen’s Day keeps the focus on family and celebrating Christ. We are never rushed out the door at 4 am for “Day-after- Christmas” sales and chaos.

As an American, I rather quite enjoy that St Stephen’s Day keeps the focus on family and celebrating Christ. We are never rushed out the door at 4 am for “Day-after- Christmas” sales and chaos.

Epiphany

In Ireland, Christmastime only finally comes to an end on what is called ‘Little Christmas’ or ‘Women’s Christmas,’ on the 6th of January — Epiphany.  The Irish ‘Mammy’ relaxes and gets spoiled; the rest of the family cook and do all the work your Mam would normally do.

Little Christmas is also the day when Christmas decorations are taken down and once again confined to the attic for another year.

Nollaig Shona Duit from our Dublin home to yours!

‘Little Christmas’ or ‘Women’s Christmas’ is on the 6th of January — Epiphany — when the Irish ‘Mammy’ relaxes and gets spoiled.

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