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Christmas Traditions & Lore

Traditional Red Christmas Candle Lighting In Window

Christmas, more than any other festival, has more worldwide customs and traditions.

Red Christmas Candles

Long ago in Ireland, each household had a long, red Christmas candle burning in the window. This was to light the way for Mary and Joseph, on their journey to Bethlehem. Before the advent of supermarkets, people bought their groceries from the local shop. Each customer got a “Christmas Box” which contained cake, brack, biscuits and, always, the tall red candle.


There is a lovely old tradition that, at midnight on Christmas Eve, all the farm animals kneel in homage to the Baby Jesus. St. Francis of Assisi is said to have introduced the first crib in 1220. It was always considered lucky to have a little piece of straw from the church crib. It was said that this would ensure that you would not be without money during the year.

Christmas Carols

Carols are regarded as joyful songs, of a religious nature, sung to celebrate Christmas. The earliest carols come from France in the 13th century, where they were part of a circular dance .During the Middle Ages, carols were sung in church, but the singers became too raucous and the carols were banned. This led to the carol singers going from door to door, in the local villages and towns, to sing their carols and they were rewarded by a mince pie or a beer. Carol singing was given a new lease of life during the Victorian era and many of the old favourites were written in the 19th century. The most famous Christmas carol of all was written by an Austrian priest called Joseph Mohr in 1818. The organ is his church was broken and would not be ready to accompany the carol singers. He sat down to write a piece which could be accompanied by guitar music and “Silent Night” was the result of his efforts.

Christmas Trees

The Christmas tree is a German tradition, dating from the 16th century. The tree became popular in this part of the world, after it had been introduced to England, by Queen Victoria’s husband Albert, who came from Germany. Originally the Christmas tree was lit by candles, not the safest of traditions!

Christmas Gifts

The giving of Christmas gifts stems from the Three Wise Men bring gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh, to the Baby Jesus. Frankincense was sweet-smelling resin which came from Ethiopia and the frankincense trade was at its height during Roman times. It was as valuable as precious stones or precious metals. Myrrh was also a fragrant resin oil and was used in perfumes and medicines.

Holly & Ivy

The tradition of using holly and ivy for Christmas decoration dates back to pagan times. These plants were said to ward off evil spirits and bring luck to the house. In Ireland, the sprigs of holly and ivy were placed on top of all picture frames and mirrors etc. Another very popular Christmas flower is the Poinsettia, which comes from Mexico. The name poinsettia means ‘ Flower of the Holy Night’, the Mexican term for Christmas Eve.


Note from editor: This was originally published as part of our December 2011 ‘Fountain News’ digital newsletter. We have re-published it under the current date because it’s been offline for a considerable amount of time, it remains relevant, and with Christmas coming, we thought you folks may enjoy it!

IMAGE: Traditional Red Christmas Candle Lighting In Window – image credit: Psycho Delia/Flickr

Fountain News DigitalThis article was originally published in:
Fountain News Digital – December 2011 (Issue 7)

We are re-publishing all articles from our past newsletter, Fountain News Digital, and you can view all completed newsletters here. There were nine issues published in total between 2010 and 2012.

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