The Chrismas Archives

CHRISTMAS IN IRELAND

 

Ireland remembers the Christian elements of the festival particularly. However, these customs are steeped in the mysteries of older times.

Between the introduction of Christianity to Ireland in the 5th century, and the infiltrations from the English in the late middle ages, there is little written about Christmas in Ireland.

In 1171, the English King, Henry II took Christmas festivities to Ireland. He essentailly went there to get the Irish chiefs to swear allegiance to the English Crown, and on finding them very agreeable, so history tells us, he had a huge hall built, in traditional Irish style, in a village near Dublin, called Hogges. There he laid on a sumptuous feast, introducing the Irish to the customs of tournaments, Christmas plays, mumming and masking etc.

Most of the references are in annals recording visits of Kings and nobles, and tell us little about the people and their customs.

The 19th and early 20th century writers have done more to build a picture of Irish Christmas than anyone. Stories which invite the reader inside the homes and farmsteads of Irish families, and share with them the preparations for |Christmas, which have been a part of this hidden Ireland for centuries. A few of the more traditional customs are listed below.

CUSTOMS FROM IRELAND

CANDLE IN THE WINDOW

Many homes in Ireland still today will show a lighted candle, or perhaps todays equivilent, and much safer, electric lights, in the window of their home on Christmas Eve. This stems from the custom that to show a light in the window lighted the way of a stranger out after dark. It goes back to most ancient times, when the laws of hospitality were stronger and not abused.

To have a light in your window on Christmas Eve to welcome the stranger meant that you were welcoming the Holy Family too. To have no light meant that you shared the guilt of the Innkeeper at Bethlehem who said, "No Room"!

WHITEWASHING THE HOUSE

In many rural areas of Ireland still today the custom of whitewashing the outhouses and stores prevails. At One time, it was the whole farm, inside and out. The women would scrub and polish everything til it shone, and the men would take a bucket of whitewash, or limewash, and purify everything in honour of the coming of the Christchild.

This custom goes back long before christianity or even celtic civilisation. It was a purifying ceremony from the most ancient of times, the ancient Mesopotamians, 4000BC would cleanse their homes, sweep the streets even, in an attempt to assist their god in his battle against the powers of chaos. And in Central European lore, it was believed that the deity, Frigg, would check all the threshholds of each house to make sure they were swept clean.

The links are so tightly intertwined, it becomes difficult to seperate one belief from another, Christmas is like a Tapestry, tightly and colourfully woven. It is almost impossible to find a thread and trace it to its beginning in the picture.

From this ancient custom comes the modern traditions of putting up fresh curtains, a special Christmas Bedcover, cushions and table linens etc. The whitewashing of the house.