"Christmas Around the World" logoNovember 2003-January 2004
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Irish flag Nollaig Shona Dhuit
Irish tree
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enlarged view

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.

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.