An Irish Christmas is
a celebration of faith and family. Long before December 25th housewives
scrub and polish their homes while the man of the house tidies up
the farmyard and whitewashes the buildings. Since drinking alone
is considered unsociable, Christmas is the only time of the year
when the Irish keep liquor in the house.
Christmas trees are a
fairly recent innovation in Ireland. Children decorate their homes
with holly, ivy, red berries and evergreens. Lighted candles are
placed in windows to guide Joseph and Mary, who wander forever on
Christmas Eve is said
to be an excellent night on which to die, for then the gates of
heaven are open to everyone. It is believed that the devil dies
annually on December 24th; church bells toll throughout Ireland
for an hour before midnight to mark his funeral.
"When it snows on
Christmas Eve," goes the saying, "the angels in heaven
are plucking geese for the feast on the morrow." In keeping
with this motto the Christmas dinner is the most elaborate of the
year, with fresh potatoes, vegetables, baked breads, and jams accompanying
roast goose or turkey, topped off with plum or bread pudding and
a traditional Christmas cake which has been mellowing since October.
Only one gift per person
is given out. But Irish generosity extends well beyond the immediate
household; it's not unusual for housewives to cook extra turkeys
or geese to share with the less fortunate, or for children to take
plates of food to those who might otherwise go without. On Christmas
night Irish families gather to tell stories, with the oldest member
recounting the tale of Mary and Joseph. Others recall events of
the past days of famine, great Irish heroes, even Herbert Hoover's
role in feeding the Irish during World War I.