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A Traditional Irish Christmas

By Edited Sep 29, 2016 14 26


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.



Aug 8, 2010 1:02pm
we always have mushy peas at Christmas! Great article
Aug 8, 2010 5:03pm
Great traditional Irish Christmas. At the O'Shields house we only practice the dinner traditions and we go round to each grand to give gifts that we can.On the eve we go round as well, my husband dresses as Santa, dashing around in the yard, peeking in windows. Just enough so the little ones can see. Then we make a dash for it. Quite fun, but tiring.
Aug 8, 2010 11:52pm
Good ideas here! Thanks!
Aug 13, 2010 2:10pm
Sounds very nice. I can see where some of our traditions in the USA came from. Yes we always had flaming Christmas pudding at grandmas - they were from the old country. They called it plum pudding and it had the sweet white hard sauce with it. So good!
Aug 25, 2010 3:33am
makes me yearn to be in Ireland at Christmas, muckle duckle and all, loved reading about the parsley sauce, will try, truly lovely article, thank you
Aug 25, 2010 5:18am
Try what? Ireland at Christmas, or parsley sauce? You mean Americans don't have parsley sauce???? poor things you
Oct 7, 2010 2:35am
Excellent article Phil you really pulled me in with your writing style and this interesting topic!
Oct 7, 2010 10:45am
Excellent article, Phil! I have Irish roots, and you really captured my fancy with this one!
Oct 7, 2010 10:05pm
Wonderful article, Phil, and I love the photos that go with it. You did a great job of helping us envision what a traditional Irish Christmas would be like!
Oct 7, 2010 10:50pm
I can't wait to whip up a batch of parsley sauce. My heritage is Irish and I have never heard of it, but it sounds pretty good, almost like a creamed spinach, but with parsley instead. GREAT article Phil!
Dec 11, 2010 12:35am
Hope you have that parsley growing away on your window sill
Dec 11, 2010 12:13am
Another great feature Phil, your becoming quite a celebrity, excellent job on an excellent topic.
Dec 11, 2010 12:33am
Celebrity?? RAFL but thanks.
Dec 11, 2010 11:58am
What a great article! I really enjoyed reading it and learning about a Traditional Irish Christmas. The parsley sauce sounds delicious. Thank you for sharing this article with us.

PS I'm so curious - what is in the wrapped up gift beside each plate? Is this a tradition, too?
Dec 11, 2010 2:53pm
They're Christmas crackers. You pull them with the person next to you. They go BANG and a silly hat and a piece of plastic junk is inside. Don't you have them then?
The parsley sauce IS one of the best things to come out of Ireland, but it GAS to be fresh parsley and so much of it that the sauce is GREEN, not white with green flecks
Dec 11, 2010 12:07pm
I've yet to visit Ireland, and it is big on my list. So nice to read about a traditional Irish Christmas. More of my ancestry revealed!
Dec 11, 2010 12:21pm
Glad you like it footloose, We'll have a jar together whe you nake it.
Dec 11, 2010 2:23pm
Congrats on your feature, Philtrate. Some of your traditional dishes I've never tried but parsley sauce, potato stuffing, mutton and Christmas pudding all sound interesting and glad you're helping others learn Irish traditions they could do with their families.
Dec 11, 2010 3:13pm
Thanks VC. Food is one of my pleasures in life, if it isn't obvious, lol. Ideas for a restaurant Christmas meal??
Dec 11, 2010 2:23pm
Really cool idea Philtrate. Nicely done!
Dec 11, 2010 3:15pm
Thanks Zack, I appreciate your comment.
Dec 11, 2010 10:10pm
Phil, I love that family stays near. I had that growing up, as did my husband, but our children do not. Your traditional Irish Christmas sounds lovely, simply lovely.

Congrats on the featured article! Well deserved!
Dec 12, 2010 5:08am
Thankyou Mommy3 for your kind comments. much appreciated. My own family (England are spread to the 5 corners of Europe, with myself in Ireland, one brother in Switzerland, other 4 siblings around England... It'd be good if extended family was a more common way of life everywhere. Children miss a lot.
Dec 12, 2010 9:39am
Wow Phil, I sure hope all of you can get together this year - will it happen? Our family is only 3 hours apart for all 5 siblings.

I might have to write an article on a restaurant Christmas meal although we have never been opened on most holidays, they are for family and as long as my parents are still alive (77 and 81 and kicking:))we just can't do it nor do we want to.. We do open two holiday all year- New Years Eve and Valentines Day-- and that's my husband's bday, he's always worked it the 30 yrs we've been together but one of our busiest and best days $wise.
Dec 12, 2010 9:52am
My parents have their diamond wedding in May. 79 and 81 years old and not many marbles missing yet. all non-excommunicated members will be there.
Dec 12, 2010 12:42pm
So glad to hear your parents are well too, mine stay super busy and I think that's a huge part of aging well. Lucky diamonds for your parents, sounds like another article in the making planning that party:)
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