As we noted in our last blog, the final days before Christmas are ideal for looking ahead to the warmer months and planning where you want to go for your annual holiday. Ireland is also well worth visiting during the festive season itself and here we explore just some of the many customs and traditions that make this such a special time of year across the island.
And if you feel inspired to book a late getaway after reading our article, why not take a look at the accommodation for last minute holidays in Ireland that we still have available over the Christmas week?
Those of us who regularly host friends and family at Christmas will know all too well about getting the house clean and tidy before our guests descend upon us, but many households in Ireland used to take these efforts to another level!
In a custom which supposedly dates back at least 4,000 years across several European cultures, the start of Advent – especially in rural areas – would often be marked with a thorough cleaning of the family home, both inside and out. Going far beyond your standard spring clean, this tradition usually involved not just polishing the silver and scrubbing the floors but also painting the exterior walls of every building – quite a task when you consider how many there tended to be on most farms.
Some people claim that the annual ‘whitewashing’ is still prevalent in parts of Ireland today, but there can be no doubt the practice is much less commonplace now than in years gone by. Whatever the truth, though, a few hours driving around the beautiful Irish countryside is always time well spent, so why not see if you can spot any newly gleaming buildings yourself whilst out exploring?
The last day of Christmas in Ireland (January 6th) is traditionally marked with a celebration called ‘Little Christmas’.
This is still observed in several counties, such as Cork and Kerry, and was started as a way of giving women in Irish households a well-earned break after all the preparation and hard work that went into the hectic Christmas period. Every year on January 6th, men were expected to spend the day doing all the domestic chores, including cleaning the house, taking down the Christmas decorations and preparing the meals.
These days, of course, the division of household labour tends to be fairer all year round! Nevertheless, the tradition of Little Christmas remains and is celebrated throughout the pubs and restaurants of towns across Ireland.
We are all familiar with the custom of leaving out a treat for Santa on Christmas Eve, whether it’s milk and a mince pie for the man himself or a carrot or two for his reindeer.
In Ireland, however, Father Christmas was traditionally given something a little stronger to help him on his long journey through the night...
Everyone knows that one of Ireland’s most loved tipples is Guinness, and it seems that even Saint Nick himself enjoys an occasional drop of the ‘black stuff’. In many Irish households, a glass or bottle of Guinness and a mince pie is Santa’s treat of choice – and you can always be sure that both will have disappeared by morning!
Mistletoe is obviously most commonly associated with kissing underneath it during the Christmas season, but it has historically held much greater significance in Ireland and other Celtic nations.
According to tradition in Ireland and elsewhere, the plant possessed remarkable qualities that could heal even the most severe of ailments.
After Christianity became the dominant religion in Ireland in the 5th century, many customs that were regarded as being pagan in nature were outlawed across the country, and this even extended to the use of mistletoe. It was not until the Victorian era, when Christmas enjoyed a major revival in both Britain and Ireland, that the plant was re-embraced and started to be used in the ways we are familiar with today.
Whilst learning about tradition is important, and all the above customs have played a small role in helping to form the amazing cultural tapestry of Ireland, there is nothing quite like exploring the stunning countryside and vibrant towns of this magnificent Emerald Isle for yourself.
And just in time for the festive frolics, our new 2019 holidays brochure is now available and free to order, featuring over 1,000 cottages to choose from.