Guest Author Vickie McDonough – Irish Christmas Traditions

Vickie1Bestselling author Vickie McDonough grew up wanting to marry a rancher, but instead married a computer geek who is scared of horses. She now lives out her dreams in her fictional stories about ranchers, cowboys, lawmen, and others living in the Old West. Vickie is the award-winning author of thirty-four published books and novellas. Her books include the fun and feisty Texas Boardinghouse Brides series, and End of the Trail, which was the OWFI 2013 Best Fiction Novel winner. Whispers on the Prairie was a Romantic Times Recommended Inspirational Book for July 2013. She recently tried something different and wrote Rancher Under Fire, a contemporary suspense.

Vickie has been married thirty-nine years to Robert. They have four grown sons, one of whom is married, and a precocious eight-year-old granddaughter. When she’s not writing, Vickie enjoys reading, antiquing, watching movies, and traveling. To learn more about Vickie’s books or to sign up for her newsletter, visit her website:

Irish Christmas Traditions

Nollaig Shona Duit!

That’s Irish for “Merry Christmas!” Several years ago, I researched Irish Christmas traditions for a novella I was writing. I thought I’d share some with you today. There are many more, but these are the more widely known ones.

The Candle

Vickie2The placing of a lighted candle in the window of a house on Christmas Eve had a number of purposes, but primarily it was a symbol of welcome to Mary and Joseph as they traveled looking for shelter. The candle was a way of saying there was room for Jesus’ parents in these homes even if there was none in Bethlehem. The candle should be lit by the youngest member of the household and could only be extinguished by a girl bearing the name ‘Mary.’ (That could explain why that name used to be so popular)

The Laden Table

Vickie6After the evening meal on Christmas Eve the kitchen table was again set and on it was 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 travelers, could avail of the welcome.


Vickie7The placing of a ring of holly on doors originated in Ireland as holly was one of the main plants that flourished at Christmas time and gave the poor ample means with which to decorate their dwellings. All decorations are traditionally taken down on Little Christmas (January 6th.) and it is considered to be bad luck to take them down beforehand.

Christmas Dinner

Vickie3Roast goose, stuffed with potatoes and onions, pig’s head garlanded with curly cabbage, a piece of salt beef, and an abundance of potatoes was, and is, the never-changing menu in humble Irish households. In wealthier homes, rice pudding, plentifully sprinkled with currants, or plum pudding, was served. Among the more traditional Irish elements were spiced beef (spiced over several days, cooked, and then pressed) which can be served either hot or cold. The traditional dessert is usually composed of mince pies, Christmas pudding, and brandy or rum sauce.

Gift Giving and Saint Stephens Day

Vickie5Before Christmas it was customary to give small gifts, usually of the cash variety, to deliverymen. Long ago, this was done on St. Stephen’s day, also known as Boxing Day (the day after Christmas). Traditionally, pantomime plays are performed on St. Stephen’s day, in which women play the men’s roles and vice-versa. In Dublin there are usually several plays going on with subjects including Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Puss in Boots, and Babes in the Wood.

The Wren Boy Procession

Vickie4During Penal Times there was once a plot in a village against the local soldiers. 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’s Day a procession takes place where pole with a holly bush is carried from house to house and families dress up in old clothes and with blackened faces. This practice of antiquity predates St. Patrick. In ancient times, a wren was beaten out of the bushes and its body hung on a holly bush. The killing of a bird is no longer tolerated but the door to door visits continue. Participants dress up in homemade costumes reminiscent of North American Halloween. The song they yell from house to house is called:

The wren, the wren, the king of all birds

Most people treat the Wren Boys to porter and pudding. Any young people in the house are cajoled to continue on with the gang until there is a decent assembly of young folk being followed by most of the children in the neighborhood. They will end up in some neighbor’s house, and if someone produces a fiddle, the party begins.

Irish Christmas traditions draw to a close on January 6th. The 12 days of the Irish Christmas season mark the twelve days between the birth of Christ and the arrival of the “Three Wise Men”, the Magi. January 6th is the day of the feast of the Epiphany. It is called “Little Christmas” in Ireland, Nollaig Bheag in Gaelic.

Little Christmas is sacred as a celebration of God’s manifestation to us in human form…Jesus. Some say that long ago, before Western Civilization adopted the Gregorian calendar, the Epiphany was the traditional day to celebrate the birth of Christ, and that this is the reason the Irish still call this day Little Christmas.

vickie9Isn’t it interesting how many of our traditions today date back to some of these? I did a lot of research on Irish Christmas celebrations but was able to use very little of it in my short novella, which is called An Irish Bride for Christmas and is part of A Bride by Christmas collection.







Find out more about the 12 Brides of Christmas at their website and like them on Facebook!


This entry was posted in Christmas, Guest Authors by Tamera Kraft. Bookmark the permalink.

About Tamera Kraft

Tamera Kraft has been a children’s pastor for over 20 years. She is the leader of a ministry called Revival Fire For Kids where she mentors other children’s leaders, teaches workshops, and is a children’s ministry consultant and children’s evangelist. She is also a writer and has curriculum published including Kid Konnection 5: Kids Entering the Presence of God published by Pathway Press. She is a recipient of the 2007 National Children’s Leaders Association Shepherd’s Cup for lifetime achievement in children’s ministry.

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