A traditional Irish Christmas is more than just food, though food and drink are important. Christmas is when the far-flung family members return to the fold. It is the time when everyone returns home to the family.
Many Irish people have had to move abroad to find work, most commonly to Britain, but they always try to come home for Christmas. There are always extra faces around the table and extra beds needed at this time. The emigrants need to come home to touch base with the family. A traditional Irish Christmas means people, talking, visitors calling in, unannounced, and visiting other people.
Importance of the Traditional Extended Family in Ireland
It is important to understand that Ireland is still not very mobile as a society. A family that originate in Cork, will all still live in Cork because they choose to. When children marry, they usually live within a few miles of their parents and visit with their parents most days. The continued existence of the extended family in Irish society is what sets Ireland apart from Britain and America.
Irish Christmas Traditions
It is a tradition in Ireland, to this day, that families come together at the grandparents' house and all eat their Christmas Eve Dinner together. On Christmas Day grandparents go around to their children's homes, taking presents to the grandchildren.
You might want to try a traditional Irish Christmas.
Traditional Irish Christmas Eve Dinner
Roast Ham, boiled and mashed poppies (potatoes), cabbage, turnip, mushy peas and parsley sauce is the usual meal served to the family.
Grandparents will buy a half, even a whole ham. What is left over will give cold meat over the holiday.
Most people do not have a saucepan big enough to boil a whole ham in, so it is soaked in a plastic bucket overnight, then baked in the oven. It takes a lot of cooking and goes on about lunchtime.
It is traditional to overcook swede (yellow turnip) and cabbage in the same pan, then to fish out the lumps of turnip before mashing them with butter and lots of pepper.
You can make Mushy Peas by soaking dried marrowfat peas overnight, with bicarbonate of soda (baking soda). Rinse off the peas and cook in plenty of boiling water for 20 minutes. Add a knob of butter to the water and two teaspoons of sugar. The mushy peas are cooked when the peas start to collapse and break up. Drain, add more butter and serve.
Parsley sauce is an essential Irish accompaniment to ham or bacon. If you have only ever used dried parsley sauce mixes, you have not lived. It is very easy to make, but lots of FRESH parsley is essential. Put 2 dessert spoons of butter in a non-stick pan. Chop half an onion finely and fry it GENTLY in the butter until it is soft, about four minutes. Do not let the onion brown. Add three dessert spoons of plain (general purpose) flour and stir it in using a slotted spoon. Add a cup full of milk, stirring constantly with the slotted spoon. Continue adding milk a cup at a time as the sauce thickens until you have the consistency you are looking for. Add the parsley, and simmer for one minute. Serve hot. (Parsley sauce tastes good cold, too).
Most people do not serve wine or alcohol with this meal, because all the visitors will be driving home, usually about 7pm, and because there are lots of children around. Serve water or soft drinks and tea afterwards.
Traditional Irish Christmas Day
Like everywhere else Christmas Day in Ireland revolves around the children. Most young families spend the day at home and grandparents call after breakfast, mid-morning, usually. The grandparents bring gifts for the children and the adults sit around drinking tea and eating chocolates.
Pubs are closed on Christmas Day. Even shops that are open are not allowed to sell alcohol. As a consequence of this, wherever you go on Christmas day alcohol will be offered. You just need to remember to stock up ahead of the day the pubs close.
One hundred years ago a common Irish Christmas Day Dinner would have been mutton. Nowadays it would include Spiced Beef, Ham and Turkey.
Christmas dinner is traditionally turkey and ham. The ham will be whatever is left over from the Christmas Eve meal. Spiced Beef is a Cork tradition and is not to everyone's taste; you can order genuine Irish Spiced Beef from many online suppliers. Nobody in Ireland makes their own spiced beef, though you can find recipes online, if necessary.
The traditional turkey dinner will usually include Brussels sprouts and muckle duckle, roast and boiled poppies (potatoes, preferably floury). If there are children then cocktail sausages and bacon rolls may be served, too.
The turkey will be stuffed with two different stuffings. Home made breadcrumbs, with fresh parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme and onions is used for the turkey body. Potato stuffing made from mashed potato, raw onion and fresh parsley and thyme is used for the neck cavity.
Muckle duckle is made by boiling carrots and parsnips together, usually slightly more carrots than parsnips, then mashing them together with butter.
No Irish Christmas dinner is complete without Christmas pudding and fresh cream. Making your own Christmas pudding is easy enough, though it takes a long time to cook, just make sure you are organised well ahead of the festive season. Serve it with brandy poured over it. Set alight to the brandy then bring it to the table while it is burning.
Christmas Day Evening
Traditionally people just collapse for a few hours after stuffing themselves like that. In the evening, from about 6pm onwards you can expect friends to come visiting, unannounced. Visitors are always offered alcohol, including whiskey, beer and wine. Your visitors will have brought a bottle or two with them, but it is considered bad form to serve them their own wine, so everyone keeps a good stock of alcohol in, just in case anyone calls.