Global Reach, Irish Insights

10 December 2021

Mary Keane and Lorri Lowe, two of our Partners, both grew up in Ireland. We spoke with them about their memories of Nollaig (Christmas).

Lorri grew up speaking Irish Gaeilge and spent several very happy years in a small village close to Dublin. She remembers most villages, towns, and cities decorating the streets with holy symbols, lights and a large Christmas trees:

"Most, if not all, Irish families decorate their homes with lights, tinsel, and baubles. Holly and ivy were also used to decorate our home and my father always said the more berries on the holly, the better the luck in the new year.

"Our Christmas tree was usually put up on the first day of the holy advent calendar. My mhamó (grandma) always said that putting up Christmas decorations before December 8th would bring bad luck! She looked forward to Nollaig na mBean, or Women's Christmas, on January 6th -  this was when, traditionally, the women got the day off and the men did the housework and cooking. The women all met in each other's homes to sew and chat. I like that idea - of all the local women getting together, but not the fact that the men didn't generally do their share of household tasks!"

On the 12 days of Christmas Mary always had lighted candles on each window,  "It was a magical view to see the candles in contrast with a star-lit sky and the freezing cold of a winter evening. Symbolically the candle represented a welcome to Joseph and Mary as they wandered in search of lodgings and it indicated to strangers, and especially to the poor, that there may be an offering of food in the house within."

The centre-piece of the Christmas holiday in Ireland is the Christmas Dinner with family and friends - also ensuring those close to us, if alone, are invited. Traditionally a round cake, full of caraway seeds, is made for each person in the house.

Mary enjoys the tradition of 'Hunting the Wren' on St Stephen’s Day which is when we celebrate our music and culture while raising money for charities.  Another of her favourite holiday traditions is: "Definitely writing and receiving Christmas cards - I know it’s an outdated tradition but I still love it!"

Lorri's enjoys leaving a mince pie and a bottle of Guinness out on Christmas Eve for Daidí na Nollag (Father Christmas) and seeing what presents he has left for her on the morning of the 25th!

A Christmas Day swim is still practised in certain parts of Ireland, "but only by those with grit" says Mary, with perhaps the most famous being at the 'Forty Foot' tiny beach in South Dublin. Lorri has participated in the Looney Dook on New Year's Day, but on reflection definitely prefers warm water swimming in Irish summers!

Nollaig Shona Duit!


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