Ireland celebrate an irish christmas like many other countries: they exchange gifts, hang stockings on the fire place and decorate their Christmas trees like it's celebrated in Christmas in germany or Christmas italy. This is all well and good, but several traditions of an irish christmas from long ago are still observed, and that's a good thing. For how can one have a "present" if one's past isn't revered?
The most simple of traditions of an irish Christmas is similar to Christmas in germany in that it involves leaving a lit candle in the window. This is supposed to signify that there is a "room at the Inn" - which as we all know - wasn't the case for Joseph and Mary. The irish demonstrate that although no rooms were available in Bethlehem, a room is available in their house. In more recent times, the lit candle in the window was also a sign to traveling priests that a safe haven was available for the night. The candle is usually lit on the eve of irish christmas, and traditionally the candle should be lit by someone named Mary. Obviously not every family has a daughter named Mary, so in modern times, the candle is lit by the youngest member of the household.
Another irish christmas tradition that you won't find in Christmas italy for example, involves the Christmas eve meal. After the meal is finished and the table cleared, a simple setting of a loaf of bread and a pitcher of milk is prepared and left on the table. Furthermore, the front door of the house is left unlatched. Together with the lit candle in the window, this was a sign of hospitality to the Holy family or any wandering traveler on the eve of irish christmas. These days you never know who wandering about and I don't know if the practice of leaving the front door unlatched is still observed. Perhaps in some of the smaller villages it still happens!
One of the most fascinating aspects of an Irish Christmas is the significance of the holiday song "The Twelve Days of Chirstmas". It is a traditional Christmas song that is sung by children of all ages. But the roots of the song go much deeper than a sing-along performed in school. The words of the song are "trigger words", words that have a double meaning. The Twelve Days of Christmas was a safe way to practice the Christian faith in an age when doing so good get you hanged or burned at the stake. Consider the following allegories:
- Partridge in a pear tree: Jesus Christ, the son of God.
-Two turtle dove: The Old and New Testaments
-Three french hens: The three virtues of Faith, Hope and Charity
-Four calling birds: The four Gospels
-Five golden rings: The first five books of the Old Testament
-Six geese a-laying: Six days of creation.
-Seven swans a swimming: The seven Sacraments.
-Eight maids a-milking: The eight Beatitudes.
-Nine ladies dancing: The nine Fruits of the Holy Spirit
-Ten lords a-leaping: The Ten Commandments. -Eleven pipers piping: The eleven apostles. -Twelve drummers drumming: The twelve doctrines in the Apostle's Creed.
Amazing that people had to disguise the lyrics of a song in order to practice their faith!
Ireland may have celebrated it's Christmas like many other countries in the free world, but by observing and respecting many Irish traditions of long ago, the Irish are also respecting their heritage. Happy Holidays!