Christmas in Ireland

I was chatting with one of our ministry partners last week. He said he’d love to hear about some of the differences between Christmas in Ireland and the US.  My perspective of Christmas traditions is limited. In the US, I am only familiar with how we celebrated Christmas in Upstate NY. And here, I am […]

by bob

Dec 15, 2018

I was chatting with one of our ministry partners last week. He said he’d love to hear about some of the differences between Christmas in Ireland and the US. 

My perspective of Christmas traditions is limited. In the US, I am only familiar with how we celebrated Christmas in Upstate NY. And here, I am still celebrating for the most part with my American family. 

Still, there some very obvious differences. Here are ten major differences we have noticed.

1. ) Music

Because there is no Thanksgiving (although Black Friday is now a thing here!) Christmas season starts shortly after Halloween. While you’ll hear many of the same songs in both countries, there are 3 that are huge over here that I do not recall hearing in the States.

The Pogues – Fairytale of New York

This one is my favourite of the three. It is also the only one of the three by an Irish band. 

And since Christmas lyrics are under a bit of scrutiny this year…it won’t take you too long to understand why this one is being debated over here.

Jona Lewie – Stop The Cavalry

This isn’t actually a Christmas song. It is war protest song from 1980 and peaked at number 3 on the UK Billboard charts.  It gets played at Christmas because it mentions the word Christmas, and has a “Christmassy” beat.

Boney M – Mary’s Boy Child

This song actually hit number 1 on the UK Billboard chart in 1978. We went to a Carol service here and this was one of the songs they sang.

2.) Santa

I know Santa is huge the States as well. But here there is this conspiracy to make sure that kids believe. The teachers at school, parents, etc. It is weird.

Now we have told all our kids from a young age that there is no Santa. We emphasized that people do it for fun and that they are not to tell other kids that there is no Santa. But that doesn’t always go well. A couple of Liz’s violin students once asked Méabh if she believed in Santa. She said no, and the mother wrote an email to Liz complaining.

We actually heard of a family whose kids told everyone at their school and the family was ostracized. Children were not allowed to play with that families kids…parents would cross the street to avoid the family. It was actually stated that telling your kids Santa is not real is child abuse. 

Like I said…weird.

3.) Christmas Crackers

I believe this is becoming more of a thing in the States, but we never had them until we got here. Generally, you open them at the start of the big meal. You cross arms and form a chain around the table. Then everyone pulls. At that point a series of unpleasant events occur:

Christmas Crackers

1) Glitter or dust from the crackers flies everywhere. On your clothes, your food, in your face. Ugh. ( feel free to call me Scrooge.)

2) At least one person ends up with only the ends of a cracker and not the main part with the cheap crap inside. It doesn’t matter how old that person is, they will become upset.

3) At least one person will have the main trinket from their cracker go flying across the room. Either they will notice that it flew out and proceed to crawl on their hands and knees looking for something they will throw away in an hour. Or they will complain about how they got “ripped off.”

4) Each person will read the terrible riddle that is inside their cracker…everyone will groan with each riddle. 

5) Finally, everyone will remove the paper crown from their cracker and place it on their head. They will eat the rest of the meal with it on.

4.) St. Stephen’s Day.

In the States, the 26th was the day everyone went to the stores to return the stuff they didn’t want. But here, nearly everything that was closed on Christmas is closed the next day…St. Stephen’s Day. So you end up with a couple of slow family days which is really nice.

The whole season between Christmas and New Years is much slower and quieter here. Which we look forward to.

We are actually hosting a St. Stephen’s Day party for friends this year…we’d appreciate your prayers for it!

5.) Mulled Wine and Mince Pies

These are staples here. If you are throwing a Christmas party, you will have mulled wine and mince pies. The pies can be quite good…but utterly unhealthy…there have been years when I ate way too many…and then when you heat them up…wow!!!

5a.) Speaking of Mulled wine. 

If you go to a Carol service, most churches here will serve mulled wine and mince pies. Churches and their views on alcohol are quite different in the States and Europe. 

6.) Christmas Dinner

Because most Americans have turkey at Thanksgiving, they have ham, or goose or whatever at Christmas. Here turkey is the thing. And while in the States you can find turkey on sale for relatively cheap around the holidays, here it is a luxury meat. 

On top of that, Irish grocery stores are not allowed to have “loss-leaders,” so you will never get a great deal on Turkey. 

7.) Roses. 

Not the flowers…the container of chocolates. Roses are made by Cadbury (don’t even get an Irish person started on “American chocolate”)

And they are way too serious. If the candies change size, or if there are fewer in the box, or if one flavour is eliminated, it will be a major story covered by the media. Seriously…just google “Cadbury Roses Shrink.”

8.) Christmas Panto

I don’t even know where to start. We have been to two since we arrived…Brenna was in the first one (Peter Pantoget it?)

They are quite fun…and rather ridiculous. They usually include one character in drag, have a lot of fart jokes, and work current events into their stories (the Snow Queen was referred to once as Freezea” May who Brexited” stage left).

9.) Christmas Activities

Wild Lights at the Dublin Zoo from 2017.

This is likely more a circumstance of living in a large city, but there are so many things to do for kids around Christmas. And most kids are reporting all the things they do in school. We usually shoot for one big activity to do with Méabh. Last year it was the Light exhibit at the Dublin Zoo…and this year it was the Snow Queen Panto at the Gaiety Theatre

10.) No White Christmas

While a white Christmas is nice, I personally do not miss snow. Méabh wants to get back to NY for a Christmas in the next few years…but doesn’t want to leave her sisters behind. We’ll see how that goes.

So there you go…my top 10 differences between Christmas in NY & Ireland.

What do you think? Did I miss anything? Leave a comment below.

Nollaig shona dhuit!

What about…

I grew up in Western New York and have started and led missional church planting efforts for a little over 30 years. As you might gather, I have opinions about the church, and I share some of them here.

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