Christmas In Ireland

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Christmas Greetings from a rather wet and soggy Irish hinterland with the barest touch of frost. It’s lovely to be here.  And if you ask “Does this road go to Bandon?” you still get an answer like “Well,  it does, sure, though I wouldn’t go there myself.”

And as they still sat hereabouts “Nollaig Shona Duit.”

The houses are lighting up now, in  the early darkness, with candles in the front windows.  It has a decorative purpose of course, but originally, and primarily, it was a symbol of welcome to Mary and Joseph as they seek shelter during their journey.

The candle also indicated a safe place for priests to perform Mass as, during Penal Times, this was not allowed.

A further element of the tradition is that the candle should be lit by the youngest member of the household and only be extinguished by a girl bearing the name “Mary.”

Another quirky note from times past is the tradition of the laden table.After the evening meal on Christmas Eve, the kitchen table was again set and on it were placed a loaf of bread filled with caraway seeds and raisins, a pitcher of milk, and a large lit candle. The door to the house was left unlatched so that Mary and Joseph, or any wandering traveler, could avail of the welcome.

And not a “Santa” in sight!

The day after Christmas is very much “St Stephen’s Day” rather than the “Boxing Day” I remember from England. There’s a rather weird old tradition associated here called the “Wren boy procession.”

During Penal Times, there was once a plot against the local soldiers in a village. They were surrounded and were about to be ambushed when a group of wrens pecked on their drums and awakened the soldiers. The plot failed and the wren became known as “The Devil’s bird.”

On St. Stephens Day, the procession takes place where a pole with a holly bush is carried from house to house and families dress up in old clothes and with blackened faces. In olden times, an actual wren would be killed and placed on top of the pole.

This custom has to a large degree disappeared, but the tradition of visiting from house to house on St. Stephen’s Day has survived and is very much part of the Christmas calendar.

The placing of a ring of holly on doors actually originates here  in Ireland as holly was one of the main plants that flourished at Christmas time and which gave the poor ample means with which to decorate their dwellings.

All decorations are traditionally taken down on “Little Christmas”  (January 6) and it is considered to be bad luck to take them down beforehand.

So God bless now

May the blessing of light be on you—
light without and light within.
May the blessed sunlight shine on you
and warm your heart
till it glows like a great peat fire.

The picture looks like a Christmas card, but it’s just an Iphone shot of someone’s front garden 🙂 God surprises us in tiny moments.

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