Read our last ten fun facts here.
1. Before the island was anglicized and adapted to having a sweet Christmas pudding (meaning cake) on December 25th, the traditional Irish Christmas cake was a “seed cake.” It’s exactly what it sounds like—a not particularly sweet cake filled with seeds and spices we’d generally consider savory, like carraway and poppy.
2. If you head into the Irish countryside around Yuletide, you’re likely to see a few whitewashed buildings. Traditionally, families would clean and whitewash every building on their property come December. This wasn’t only in order to clean up for visiting relatives, but symbolic of purification before the Christmas celebrations. (This one is a tradition in many cultures in Central Europe, too!)
3. December 8th is considered the beginning of the holiday season in Ireland. While in America, we’ve started putting up Christmas decorations the day after Halloween (that’s capitalism for you,) Ireland’s Christian roots start the Yule season on the feast day of Immaculate Conception. In times past, this was the day the hordes would flock to Dublin to do their Christmas shopping—and now it’s the day the decorations go up! (Schools are generally closed that day, too!)
4. While people all over the world are dreaming of a white Christmas, you’re not too likely to get one in Ireland! It barely ever snows anywhere on the island. and though we tend to think of Ireland as cold and wet, it is an island—meaning its temperate climate stops it from getting too hot or too cold. The average temperatures range from 48 to 39 degrees Fahrenheit in December! (It’s already colder here!)
5. One of Ireland’s most…surprising Yuletide traditions actually occurs the day after. Known as Saint Stephen’s Day in Ireland, it’s like a rowdier second Christmas celebration that’s celebrated with horse races and Wren Boys—men dressed in over-the-top homemade costumes who sing and play music through the streets as they “hunt the wren” (i.e. carry around the effigy of a wren in a holly bush on the top of a pole.) This tradition stems from an old Irish tale where a wren, known for its loud song, betrayed a group of loyal Irish to the British.
6. January 6th is known as the end of the Christmas season in a lot of places, but Ireland has their own special twist on “Little Christmas.” The Irish call the day Nollaig na mBan or “Women’s Christmas.” Traditionally, most women were hard at work through the holidays, and the 6th was the day they were supposed to take a rest while their husbands took down all the holiday decorations (it’s considered bad luck to do it before or after!! We hope things are more equal now, but it still sounds like a nice break to us!
7. While it’s fallen out of favor in lieu of milk and cookies, it used to be popular to leave out a Guinness and a mince pie for Santa! (After all, Guinness is a very sustaining beverage.)
8. It’s believed that the Christmas carol with the longest history originated in Ireland. The Irish (and others) have been singing “The Wexford Carol” since the 12th century, leading it to be named the longest sung carol in the world. It’s based around the nativity and is also known as “Enniscorthy Carol” as it originated in, you guessed it, Enniscorthy in County Wexford. Want to hear it? Click here!
9. The Mourne Mountains in County Down is Santa’s (or as the Irish often say, Santy’s) official Irish residence! These mountains are very secluded, perfect for Santa to take a rest and help out his elves with the rest of the toys before Christmas is here, along with Rudolph and the rest of his reindeer. Want a tour? Check out this video.
10. Ireland has a lot of Yuletide traditions, but perhaps none so frosty as the Christmas Day Swim at Forty Foot in South Dublin! Christmas morning, hundreds gather to leap from Forty Foot Rock into the Irish Sea in nothing but their bathing suits (which is about 50 degrees Fahrenheit usually—the real problem is getting out,) often using the opportunity to raise money for charity.
This post is part of a series. Read our last batch of fun facts here. Check out the blog every Monday and Thursday for more posts about Irish history, dance culture, community news, and spotlights on our dancers, staff, and families—among other fun projects! And don’t forget to dance along with us on both Facebook and Instagram.
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