In cities and villages around Ireland, crews are festooning the streets with Christmas decorations. Colorful arches spelling out Nollaig Shona Duit stretch over streets filled with shoppers. Lamp posts are wrapped in garlands. Huge trees stand in town squares, their colorful lights twinkling. Many of the motifs will look familiar to people around the world who celebrate the holiday, but a few are different. And you’ll see them on Irish gifts this holiday season as well in the shop windows of Dublin, Galway, Killarney, Cork and all the villages in between.
Robins look perfect for the season when they perch on holly, a native Irish tree. But they appear on Christmas cards and decorations in Ireland and Britain not just because of their festive red breast and habit of appearing in gardens in December looking for food. When the British developed their postal service in the Victorian era, the staff wore red uniforms and were quickly nicknamed ‘robins’. So the mail carrier delivering those early Christmas cards became associated with the bird. When the 26 counties of the Republic of Ireland gained independence from Britain, the new postal service donned a green uniform and painted the post boxes green. But the robin remained in place as cheerful and beloved symbol of Christmas. Robins are still popular on Christmas cards and Irish gifts such as Christmas ornaments.
Candles in the Window
Among the decorations Irish people adorn their homes with every December, the trio of candles is arguably the most popular. It is a fixture in more homes than not. The candles signify a welcome to all, a response to the lack of welcome Mary and Joseph received in Bethlehem. With so many Irish forced to leave throughout the nation’s history, the candles also represent a welcome for family visiting home for Christmas. They are wistful symbol for others who wish their loved ones were coming home for Christmas.
Few sights in winter are more beautiful than snow slowly falling on the thatched roof of a whitewashed cottage surrounded by green fields. It’s easy to imagine sipping tea or hot whiskey in front of a huge fire, the smell of turf and apple pie in the air as the wind rattles the windows. As fun as it is to see the decorations in town, the idea of retreating to a country cottage with your nearest and dearest to await Santa’s arrival has a lot of appeal too!
This one baffles many people in North America! What is that dark mound with cream dripping down it that appears on Irish Christmas cards and decorations? It is a traditional Christmas pudding, which has absolutely nothing in common with the puddings known in other parts of the world. It’s a dense, moist dessert filled with raisins and soaked with brandy. It’s made several weeks ahead of Christmas, and getting a traditional family recipe really is one of the rarest Irish gifts. People guard them closely!