Irish Christmas traditions old and new
From Christmas swims in freezing waters to comforting hot whiskies by the fire, Ireland’s Christmas traditions range from historic to eccentric.
Ireland does Christmas a little bit different to the rest of the world: we call the Epiphany on 6 January ‘Women’s Little Christmas’ or ‘Nollaig na mBan’ - pronunciation: null-ug na mon - as traditionally the women got to go out and have fun while the men stayed at home. We place candles on our windows on Christmas Eve; and we say ‘Happy Christmas’ in English, and ‘Nollaig Shona Duit’ as Gaeilge. We’ve got some very Irish traditions that’ll get you into the Christmas spirit.
Hot whiskey: the winter warmer
According to Esquire magazine, ‘There are few drinks as instantly delightful as hot Irish whiskey punch’. Made with whiskey, lemon, cloves, and a touch of brown sugar, it warms you up from the inside out. Traditionally, hot whiskey is consumed through the coldest months of the year. There’s nothing like the smell of cloves to get you in the holiday spirit.
Here's our favourite hot whiskey recipe:
• 80 ml boiling water
• Ice cubes
• 50 ml whiskey
• 1 wedge lemon
• 20 ml spiced tea syrup
How To make
- Add 50ml of your favourite whiskey, 20ml spiced tea syrup, and 80ml piping hot water into a stainless-steel jug.
- Steam under a wand until boiling point is reached. If you don't have a wand, steaming hot water works here.
- Pour into a heated glass or mug before squeezing the lemon into the drink.
- Drop the lemon wedge into the glass and serve.
Candle in the window
Placing a lighting candle on the window, particularly on Christmas Eve is one of the most well-known of all Irish Christmas symbols and is known far and wide.
A candle in the window is a special Irish Christmas symbol of welcoming. It is thought that this Irish custom dates to the Penal times when masses had to be celebrated in secret as it was illegal to practice the Catholic religion.
Building upon this tradition the Irish President Mary Robinson started the tradition of having a light in the window of the Irish presidential house, Aras an Uachtarain, in Phoenix Park, Dublin. A Tilley lamp is lighting round the clock in the window as a beacon to the Irish Diaspora worldwide.
The Christmas swim
Irish journalist Fergal Keane once said of his Christmas swim: “It was worth every second of Arctic misery for the sense of achievement that followed”. You see, around the island of Ireland on Christmas Day, thousands creep down to the coast and throw themselves into the sea. Naturally, this causes plenty of amusement among the fleece-wrapped onlookers. The Christmas Swim, though, is one of Ireland’s biggest traditions, and many do it for charity.
Hanging the Christmas holly
The Christmas tradition of hanging a ring of holly on the door is thought to have originated in Ireland, as it was a plant that was abundant on the island in December. These days, it’s customary for everyone to hang a ring on their door, and you can have a go at making one of these traditional Christmas wreaths at Christmas fairs around the island.
This is the ultimate Christmas dish in Ireland, and one that the people of Cork hold particularly close to their hearts. Spiced beef, cooked with sugar, spices and berries, dates back centuries to a time when it was a way of preserving the meat. Today, the tradition continues and claims its place on the dinner table in houses all over the island at Christmas time.
Let us take care of all your Christmas gifts this year.
Visit our online Christmas pop-up store for authentic Irish gifts, including Aran sweaters, flannel nightwear, and wool socks. Get an eGiftcard for your more fussy friend, and avail of our express shipping service with 1 - 4 days international delivery.
Wishing you and yours a Merry Christmas and a Prosperous New Year.
Nollaig Shona agus Athbhliain faoi Mhaise Duit.