Christmas Folklore

tumblr_ngzqu8owh41sq3zvjo1_1280A few Christmas themed traditions dealing with christmas eve, Christmas day and St.Stephens night. Some have been taken from the schools collection of folklore (NFSC hereafter), collected from around the country during the school year of 1937-8. (This collection can be viewed online at The other source is from Kevin danaher’s book- The year in Ireland.

St.stephen’s day:

  • people who don’t eat meat on the day will not be sick during the year (NFSC, Volume 0787, Page 56)

    Wren boys
  • young boys go around with the wren.They hold the wren in a box and sing a song. The song is:”The wren, the wren the king of all birds.St. Stephen’s Day was caught in the furze. Up with the kettle and down with the pan, Give us something and honour the wren. On St. Stephen’s Day people go visiting (NFSC, vol.0104: 391).
  • In The journals of the kildare archaeological society,v, 452 it mentions that if any of the wren boys were refused money when they visited houses, they would bury a wren (from their “wren bush”) opposite the hall door into which no good luck could enter for twelve months (Danaher,1972:247).

Christmas Day


  • Every Christmas log fires used be light (sic) and all the family sat around and the old people told stories. On Christmas morning when they went to Mass they took a few wisps of straw from the crib, brought them home and put one under the rafters of each cabin and under the beds. This was supposed to bring good luck. The old people say it isn’t right to wear anything new on Christmas day but to keep it until New Year’s Day. It is right to leave the doors open and unlocked on Christmas night as the Blessed Virgin is supposed to visit each house on that night. The people say that on Christmas night the animals talk. There was a boy long ago who did not believe this. One Christmas night he stole into the stable and lay down beside the horse to see would he hear him talking. Just at midnight he heard one horse say to another ‘This day week i will be carrying this boy to the graveyard’. That boy died a few days afterwards and he was taken to the graveyard on the very day the horse had said. On Christmas night also all animals go down on their knees and they all get an extra sheaf of straw on that night (NFSC, vol.0096:653).
  • Donegal: Christmas pies in the shape of cradles to represent the manger of Bethlemham (Danaher,1972:237).
  • Hearing crickets chirp behind the hob on Christmas was considered to be a source of good fortune for the coming year (Danaher,1972:241).

Christmas Eve:

  • The decorations usually fell to the kids who would collect holly, ivy bay and other evergreens and take them home. These were hung with string and thread or stitched onto fabric. Holly with berries was especially prized (Danaher,1972:233).
  • Farmers  gave gifts of meat, often corned beef  from the animals that had been slaughtered at Martinmas (Danaher,1972:237).
  • Lighting candle and placing in the window for the blessed vigin as she travels from
    Image credit: Sugargliding, Flickr

    house to house.  No one leaves their own house on the day. Games are played. A Decorated tree is taken into the kitchen at tea time and children dance around it and sing (NFSC, vol.0788:120). The lighting of the candle was often done by the youngest child (Danaher,1972:238).

  • If the principle candle went out for no reason it was considered a bad omen and could foretell a death in the family (Danaher,1972:238).
  • A new moon on Christmas Eve was considered a good omen (Danaher,1972:240).

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