Ireland shares many traditions and customs with other European Catholic countries, but also has some of its own. The days leading up to the 25 December are busy; for traditional cooks one of the most important projects is the Christmas cake, a traditional fruit cake. Sometimes it is made as early as November, and preserved with the use of alcohol (stout and whiskey are usually used). As well as the fruit substance (sultanas, raisins, nuts etc), it is iced with marzipan and white icing. Wedding cakes used to be baked like this, but these days sponge is more common. The Christmas cake is eaten after the turkey main course on Christmas Day.
One important custom on Christmas Eve is the lighting of a candle in a prominent window of the dwelling. This marks the house as Christian, and symbolically lights the way for the Holy Family and Wise Men. Many people also take the opportunity to attend a religious service on Christmas Eve, typically Midnight Mass (increasingly held well before 12pm).
Christmas Day with an Irish Family
On Christmas Day, households with children are usually up early! Everyone else gets up sometime in the morning while the enthusiastic go to Mass or church. Back by about noon, most then begin preparations for the most important meal of the year; Christmas Dinner. Traditionally, and still most popular is turkey for the main course, complimented with various veg and potatoes. Brussel Sprouts are usually present and people either love or hate them (sprouts are little cabbages). Some families will begin with a starter, usually something more unusual than soup (such as prawn cocktail or the like). When the main course is complete, dessert/pudding is normally Christmas cake and Christmas pudding, the latter served with cream. Everything is usually washed down with alcohol, typically stout or a bottle of wine. Following the eating and drinking, family members either assist with the grand washing up project, or collapse in a chair asleep!
The Day After: Stephen's Day (not Boxing Day)
The day after Christmas Day in Ireland is known as St Stephen's Day (following the liturgical calendar). The name of the game this day is recuperation; getting up late, catching up with friends and taking some exercise. The latter is important and includes attending horse racing (Leopardstown Racecourse in County Dublin is particularly popular). Ancient traditions for St Stephen's Day, such as the Procession of the Wren Boys, have virtually died out, but the need to meet friends and relatives is still fulfilled in attending football games and other sporting events (group outdoor swimming is also popular, and Dublin's 40-foot near Dalkey hosts such an event)..
Traditional Irish Christmas customs & practice