Monday, December 9, 2013

Celtic Corner - December 2013

Irish Christmas History

Irish Christmas history begins with the English King, Henry II in 1171. The English monarch took the Christmas celebrations to Ireland. Henry II built a very big traditional Irish hall in the village named Hogges. Sumptuous feasts and Christmas plays were held in which the Irish chiefs loyal to the English sovereign also took part. Down the ages, the Christmas celebrations in Ireland have deviated somewhat from the early times, but the spirit is essentially the same.

Irish Christmas history shows us some traditional rituals of Christmas in Ireland. Ritual here is used in a very broad sense, some have little religious significance, but great social importance. A lighted candle in the window on Christmas Eve is one such custom. All Irish homes have a lighted candle, which has the symbolism of showing the light to the stranger after dark. This is a most ancient custom when people were really hospitable. The candle has to be lit by the youngest in the family and extinguished by any girl named “Mary”. The custom of a laden table is also an endearing one. The table is laid with bread filled with caraway seed and raisins and a large pitcher of milk and a lighted candle. This means that any weary traveler or Joseph and Mary can avail of this hospitality if they so wanted and is an integral part of Irish Christmas History.

The Wren Boy Procession

The Wren Boy procession took place on St. Stephen’s day, the day after Christmas. It shows similarities to Halloween. Children wandered the streets, carrying a stick topped with a holly bush. They painted their faces, wore old clothes sang and played music, demanding money “for the hungry wren.” Although this custom seems harmless enough, its origins are rather dark. The wren was said to be a treacherous bird; it was blamed for betraying the hiding place of St. Stephen to his persecutors. It was also claimed that the bird beat its wings on the shields of the Norsemen to alert them to the presence of Irish soldiers. However, going further back in time, the wren may have been used in Druidic rites, to which Irish Christians would have been opposed. Early Wren Boy processions sported a real dead wren on top of the stick. Currently, a fake bird is used and the processions usually occur in the southern parts of Ireland.

Little Women’s Christmas

In the old times, housework was firmly considered women’s business, which means that after all the cooking, baking and cleaning, the women used to be completely exhausted. Come the 6th of January, they got one day of relaxation. On this day, the men did all the housework and the women went to the pub for a day out. Although “the New Man” has now arrived in Ireland, many Irish women love to keep this tradition alive. Little Women’s Christmas also marked the day when it was “safe” to take down Christmas decorations. Any earlier was considered unlucky.

An Irish Christmas Blessing

The light of the Christmas star to you

The warmth of home and hearth to you

The cheer and good will of friends to you

The hope of a childlike heart to you

The joy of a thousand angels to you

The love of the Son and God’s peace to you

Nollaig Shona

Happy Christmas

Correspondence Secretary                                              President

Frank Darcy                                                                    Ken Egan