What is Christmas like in Ireland? Well it's similar and totally different all at once - like most things! One of my favorite parts of the holiday season is the food, so let's start there. First of all at every festive dinner (whether for work or at home) every guest gets a Christmas Cracker:
Inside the cracker is a hat, a joke and a toy. Depending on the poshness of the cracker will depend on the quality of the toy. I have received pencil erasers, key chains, nail files, mini deck of cards, it can really run the gamut! Everyone is then required to wear the hat for the duration of the meal:
The Irish don't have Thanksgiving in November, so the traditional Christmas dinner is very much like our Turkey Day. A typical menu might be: Turkey, Ham, Stuffing, Potatoes (usually roast), Brussel Sprouts (surprisingly delicious) and various other vegetables.
Where it gets really good is dessert. There are so many desserts! Christmas cake, which is like a really good version of fruit cake, that is lit on fire by drizzling it with brandy before serving. Christmas pudding, a cold version of Christmas cake (pudding in Ireland isn't like American pudding, it's more like a spongey cake), Trifle (delicious layers of custard, fruit, cream, sponge cake fingers, and jello), Mince pies (shortcake crust filled with raisins, cinnamon, glaze) and topped with cream. And those are just the traditional desserts - there was always more everywhere we went. After the meal, teas and coffees are served and the tins of chocolates go round.
I know in America we have chocolates too, but in Ireland every single household and office you go into will have at least one if not several of the following tins of chocolates: Roses made by Cadbury, Quality Street, Celebrations made by Mars, or Heroes also made by Cadbury. They are filled with individually wrapped chocolates. And these little suckers are addicting!
Christmas Eve isn't as big a deal here as it is at home, simply because the day after Christmas is an even bigger deal. December 26th is referred to as Stephen's Day and everyone has both days off as a holiday. Irish people are astounded that Americans only have one day off at Christmas, they literally think we are nuts. Carl loves to ask me...repeatedly...why we call it the holiday season when in fact it is only one day off. Help!
It is also tradition that most offices close from the 24th - 1st January. This includes some shops and restaurants. We decided to get out of the house and go for a meal on the 28th and went to 5 of our favorite restaurants before we found one open! Insane! And no one says Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays. It is strictly Happy Christmas or Nollaig Shona Duit (in Irish)!
The holiday season officially ends on the 6th of January or the Day of the Epiphany. History lesson time:
The Irish call Epiphany Little Christmas or "Women's Christmas". On the feast of the Three Kings the women of Ireland in times gone by had a bit of rest and celebration for themselves, after the cooking and work of the Christmas holidays. Today Irish women may spend the day shopping, take a meal at a restaurant or spend the evening at gathering in a pub. Women may also receive gifts from children, grandchildren or other family members on this day. Other Epiphany customs, which symbolize the end of the Christmas season, are popular in Ireland, such as the burning the sprigs of Christmas holly in the fireplace which have been used as decorations during the past twelve days. Source