The Turn of the Year: Celebrated Irish Christmas Traditions

We are delighted to present you an excerpt from The turning point of the year, Eithne Massey’s new book, published by The O’Brien Press.

The Irish have a strong connection to the land and to nature. This book takes us through the Irish seasons and the customs that have welcomed each in turn. From Samhain to Imbolc, Bealtaine and Lunasa, he examines the meaning and legends associated with this annual cycle.

Christmas and winter

If nature is sleeping, humans, as usual, decide they need to wake it up. With everyone at low ebb, some light is needed and Christmas requires. We have seen how the solstices are of great importance to the people who built the ancient monuments, such as Newgrange, where on the dawn of the winter solstice, the light passes through the hole above the stone. ridge, reflecting on the carved stone and the bones of the dead. crammed at the end of the main hallway. The return of the sun in the middle of winter reassured the community that the light would return, that growth would begin again, and that life would continue.

If the origins of a winter festival seem closer to the Roman festival of Saturnalia, or, with its Christmas log and evergreen attire, to Scandinavia and Germany, rather than to Celtic tradition, it seems that long before the Celts arrived in Ireland, the inhabitants of the country marked the winter solstice in the most permanent way, celebrating the rebirth of the sun. More recently, Christmas has become the quintessential family celebration, and its customs bring light and comfort. The candle in the window, the gifts left in the stockings hanging from the bed rail, the dark green of the ivy and the bright red of the holly berries used to decorate the house: all help us through the dark times. Christmas was also a time for the community to come together, at fairs like the Great Market, which was held before Christmas. This is where we bought dried fruits and other Christmas luxuries such as goose or spicy beef, to be consumed with immense pleasure after the Advent fast. The Market was also an opportunity to meet these people who lived far away and who were rarely seen. Christmas dinner was the main celebration of the year and food was an important part of Christmas, more so than at any other festival. Even the animals were given extra food.

The religious ceremonies were joyful and full of songs. Some areas had special Christmas carols, most notably Kilmore in Wexford. The dead were not forgotten: on the three days around Christmas wreaths were (and still are) brought to cemeteries and on Christmas Eve in many homes food and drink were left out, not for Father Christmas or Rodolphe, but for those who had died during the year. There was a tradition that on Christmas Eve donkeys and cows were given the power of speech and could be seen kneeling in the barn and barn at midnight. Candles were lit in the windows and only one remained lit all night, to guide the Holy Family. This custom is still honored in Áras an Uachtaráin, the home of the Irish President.

For the children of the 1930s who participated in the Schools Folklore Project at a time when Ireland was poor and rural, it was a bright and culminating time of the year, the greatest of celebrations, with feasts, gifts and brightly colored houses. The food and drink that played such an important role in the festivities were associated with specific traditions.

The feeling of joy and wonder, the excitement of the child, can still make Christmas something more than the orgy of spending and self-indulgence that it can sometimes seem like.

On St. Stephen’s Day, the much more pagan troglodyte hunting festival took place. The small, loud-voiced bird is no longer hunted, killed and nailed to a pole, but in some towns the wren bush is still carried around town, decorated with silver balls and accompanied by disguised musicians and murmurs. and Straw Hats, the colors indicating their local loyalties.

In Dingle’s most famous show, a workhorse plays an important role, as does the man dressed as an old woman, the Cailleach. The troglodyte had the reputation of being a mage, a magical creature, the druid bird. Popular legends give a justification for his murder – that the bird called out and alerted the Danes, or in some versions Oliver Cromwell, to the presence of Irish soldiers, and his descendants must suffer for his crime for eternity. In other versions, the Wren is the bird that betrays St Stephen, Patron Saint of December 26, and in a particularly savage Kerry story, the Wren pinches Fionn Mac Cumhaill’s ear to warn him that the Orangemen are coming. It is said that the wren nests in a holly tree and is killed with a holly stick, then buried in the wren bush, coffin and sharpened, its funeral games take place. The Wren is also credited with being the King of the Birds, although he gains his sovereignty through cunning.

The other bird closely associated with Christmas is the robin, the oldest of the Christmas card. This bird’s association with Christmas appears to date from the Victorian era, but it is a bird that has always seemed to hold a special place in human affections, possibly because of its cheerful friendliness. The robin is very present in December. At the end of December, he sang, marking his territory and finding singing stations from which to proclaim his lordship on a particular land. Legends associated with the robin connect its red breast to the blood of Christ and also to fire – in any case, the robin is trying to help another being, be it a god or the two lost children who die in Woods. The robin is a friend of many.

The December festivities continued through New Years, and New Years had its own piseogs – he wasn’t lucky to throw ashes, donate milk, or spend money on that day- the. Little Christmas or Epiphany takes place on January 6 and is the celebration of the adoration of the Magi. In Ireland he was known as Nollaig na mBan. That’s when the women of the house stood up after all the hard work involved in the Christmas celebrations. There may be magic in the air on this date – it has been said that water becomes wine, rushes turn silk, and gravel turns gold. In recent times, it has seen a revival as a quasi-feminist festival of Celtic Christianity. After the sixth, the crib and decorations were taken down, some of the greenery kept for making crosses on Shrove Tuesday, and the holly stored for burning in the fire on which the traditional pancakes were cooked that day.

The turning point of the year by Eithne Massey (published by The O’Brien Press) is now in bookstores.

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