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Christmas in Ireland

A Christmas Card of Ireland circa 1888 (National Library of Ireland)

Ancient Mode of Celebrating Christmas in Ireland

The hallowed period of Christmas was celebrated by the ancient Irish with great pomp and festivity. In ‘Flemming’s History of Ancient Irish Customs’, we have an elaborate account of the festivity and amusement that prevailed at this season of gaiety and mirth, which was the very millennium of hospitality and social intercourse. On Christmas eve the village maidens repaired to the groves to gather ivy and holly, which they generally wove into garlands for the decoration of the village church and their own apartments. At seven o’clock in the evening, the church bells greeted “old father Christmas” with a merry peal; then the immense “Christmas candles”* were lit up, the large block of ash blazed on the smiling hearth, the enormous wassail bowl of whiskey punch smoked upon the antique oak table and after the priest had said grace and offered up a prayer of gratulation and thanksgiving, the bards had chaunted a carol on their harps, the feudal chieftain caused the door of his spacious hall to be thrown open, who, proud of his vassals and dependants with a smile, as cheerful as his hearth, and a heart as open as the portals of his castle, bade all that entered welcome and to those that departed an affectionate adieu. After feasting on fish and fruits, the wassail bowl went round briskly and the bards then raised the festive strains.

*The Anglo Saxons after the devotions of Christmas day were over, always observed the ceremony of lighting in the house enormous candles, which were called Christmas candles and laying a large log of wood upon the fire, which they termed a “yule clog”, or “Christmas block”. The custom in all probability has been derived from the ancient Irish, as Bede himself, admits that the Irish Druids, before the introduction of Christianity, began the year on the eighth of the calends of January, which is now our Christmas day. The pagan Irish worshiped the sun and observed the eighth of January as a day of devotion and jubilee and we think that the ‘Christmas block’, or ‘yule log’, derived its appellation from the ceremony of burning it, as an emblem of the cheerful return of the sun and an increase of its vivid light and genial heat.

In those remote days a wassail bowl, or cup, was placed on the tables of Lords, as well as on those of the Abbots, whose doors were ever open for the reception of the poor and the stranger.

At midnight the lord and the peasant repaired to the church to offer their devotions and hear a solemn mass, but after two o’clock on Christmas morning devotions and austerities gave way to pleasure and rejoicing. On their coming home from church, the wassail bowl, which though rudely shaped from Galway marble, contained liquor fit for the lips of the Indian Bacchus and worthy to celebrate his return from conquest. The wassail liquor was composed of wine, brandy, some water, spices of various kinds, and roasted apples, which floated in triumph on its foaming top. Music and song always ushered in Christmas morning. The swain sung his serenade ditty under his mistress’s window, the harper allured sweet notes from his music-breathing strings and the discordant horn and shrill pipe contributed sounds, if not melody, to the concert. Then, Christmas day was like a day of victory, every house and church was as green as spring. The laurel plucked by the hand of beauty and the holly with its scarlet berries shining like fire-flies, decorated the altar of hospitality. On that day, all distinctions of rank and station were forgotten at the great dinner in the chieftain’s hall, where the tables groaned with the weight of the feast.

T ranslatedfrom an old Irish manuscript, the form of benediction used by the chaplain of the Earl of Desmond, in blessing the feast, and the guests, on Christmas day 1438.

“The blessing of this festive season be upon our good lord and lady and upon all that hear me, – its gladness in every heart, – its praises on every lip. May the aged forget the ravages of time in the hallowed recollections of that blessed eternity, which was assured to all Christians by the coming of our blessed Redeemer; and may the young be happy in administering to the comforts and lightening the cares of those who tread the down-hill path of life, beneath the weight of years. It behooves us to contemplate this period of the year with peculiar earnestness; but while it claims our piety and most serious thoughts, it by no means excludes that rational enjoyment and mirth, which the goodness of providence permits to all its creatures in the merry Christmas-time. Then may the wassail bowl pass round with temperate cheerfulness; and may we receive all the good things prepared for us here with ardent feelings of gratitude to Him; who sends us every good comfort and nourishment.” (The Irish Shield and Monthly Milesian, Vol. 1 1829)

The Medieval Christmas Feast

In 1171, Henry II. went to Ireland, and finding no place in Dublin large enough to contain his own followers, much less his guests, Henry had a house built in Irish fashion of twigs and wattles in the village of Hogges, and there held high revelry during Christmastide, teaching his new subjects to eat cranes’ flesh, and take their part in miracle plays, masques, mummeries, and tournaments. And a great number of oxen were roasted, so that all the people might take part in the rejoicings.

The sumptuous entertainments which the kings of England gave to their nobles and prelates at the festivals of Christmas, Easter, and Whitsuntide diffused a taste for profuse and expensive banqueting; for the wealthy barons, prelates, and gentry, in their own castles and mansions, imitated the splendour of the royal entertainments. Great men had some kinds of provisions at their tables which are not now to be found in Britain. When Henry II. entertained his own court, the great officers of his army, and all the kings and great men in Ireland, at the feast of Christmas, 1171, the Irish princes and chieftains were quite astonished at the profusion and variety of provisions which they beheld, and were with difficulty prevailed on by Henry to eat the flesh of cranes, a kind of food to which they had not been accustomed. Dellegrout, maupigyrum, karumpie, and other dishes were then used, the composition of which is now unknown, or doubtful. Persons of rank and wealth had a variety of drinks, as well as meats; for, besides wines of various kinds, they had pigment, morat, mead, hypocras, claret, cider, perry, and ale. The claret of those times was wine clarified and mixed with spices, and hypocras was wine mixed with honey.

From the statements and illustrations in old manuscripts it would appear that ‘the merry monks” were prominent in gastronomical circles. And extant records also state that the abbots of some of the monasteries found it necessary to make regulations restraining the monks, and to these regulations the monks objected. And of course the festive season of Christmas was an occasion of special indulgence. Sometimes serious excesses were followed by severe discipline. But these excesses were by no means confined to the monks.

At Culdaff, (Co. Donegal) previous to Christmas, it is customary with the labouring classes to raffle for mutton, when a sufficient number can subscribe to defray the cost of a sheep. During the Christmas holidays they amuse themselves with a game of’ kamman’, which consists in impelling a wooden ball with a crooked stick to a given point, while an adversary endeavours to drive it in a contrary direction.

Extracts from ‘Christmas, its Origin and Association’ by Wm. Francis Dawson, 1902

The Christmas Rhymers in the North of Ireland

During the first half of the month of December and occasionally almost up to Christmas, but never after, parties of 8 or 10 lads, of from twelve to 16 or 18 years of age, and belonging to the labouring, or tradesman class, go about after dark performing the Christmas rhymes, in whatever houses they may be admitted to, in the suburbs of Belfast and in some of the surrounding villages. My experience does not extend further. These lads dress themselves for the occasion by putting white shirts over their clothes and wear tall caps of white paper, pointed at top and with the front flat, something like the conventional bishop’s mitre with scraps of gilt and coloured paper pasted on for ornament. They are also provided with swords of hoop iron.

The police are not supposed to favour the rhymers and the wayfarer, who passing along a dark road, suddenly encounters one of these ghost-like parties moving furtively along, if not acquainted with the institution, would fancy that he had wandered into the region of enchantment.

I have used the word ‘institution’ and the Rhymers may be so regarded in this neighbourhood; they are, sometimes, a little boisterous and their coming is regarded with some terror, by old ladies or timid maid servants, but in houses where materfamilias does not, for the nonce, object to a sudden inroad of half a dozen pairs of hob-nailed boots, into her nice hall, the children look on with great delight at the performance, although perhaps baby may scream at the blackened faces of Beelzebub and Devil Doubt.

After receiving a small present of money, the Christmas Rhymers move on to the next house. The rhymes, of course, have to be committed to memory by the different performers. The words are printed in little books, which are sold at a halfpenny each.

Heathen Holly

When Dean Stanley last preached in the Catacombs, he mentioned that the decoration of churches with holly was a religious observance, which came from the times of the heathens, who suspended green boughs and holly about their houses, that the fairies and spirits of the woods might find shelter under them.
(Notes and Queries” 1872 Oxford University Press )

Christmas Rhymers

Fleecy snow-clouds now are sailing
In the chill and clear moonlight,
And the wintry wind is wailing
To the ear of lonely Night.
Snow-drifts on the roofs lie heavy,
Ice-drops glisten from the eaves:
Boughs in autumn that were leafy.
Now are clad with snow-born leaves.
God give you joy these Christmas times;
Gentles, listen to our rhymes.

Hark! from out the ivied steeple
Clangs the jocund pearl of bells,
Waves of sound, like billows, ripple
On the night in solemn swells.
See, with merry pipe and tabor.
At your doors we play and sing;
Listen to our grateful labour,
Deign to hear our carolling.
God give you joy these Christmas times;
Gentles, listen to our rhymes.

We have songs of pride and glory
For the ear of lord and knight;
We can sing a true-love story
To the heart of maiden bright.
We have ditties sweetly tender
That will make you pleased, tho’ sad;
Deftly we know how to render
Eyes more bright, and hearts more glad.
God give you joy these Christmas times;
Gentles, listen to our rhymes.

Lusty youth and manhood able,
Matrons gentle, maidens dear,
Crippled age and childhood feeble,
Each and all our carols hear;
At this festive time, to cheer you.
We have culled the sweetest lays;
Kindly call us to come near you,
All the meed we ask is praise.
God give you joy these Christmas times;
Gentles, listen to our rhymes.

(Londonderry Standard 25 Dec. 1851)

Breaking the New-Year’s Cake

This fine old festival, whose origin is lost amidst the Pagan darkness that surrounds so many of the customs of Ireland, and is yet held dear to its inhabitants, by the joyous associations of childhood is, like many other customs, passing away not only from the practice, but also from the recollection of the people; yet they delight to talk of those times when the worthy good man, either in the big house, or comfortable homestead, made known to his cherished friends and humble dependents that the lady of the house or the good woman, was to have her New-Year’s Eve cake; and the sly invitation was sure to gather all who cherished genuine wit and humour to witness the making of the cake, – that important portion of the meal,- to enjoy the drollery of him or her installed as high priest, and to sing the requisite incantations to secure the success of the charmed cake. This, having been once fairly placed on the griddle (in those days our forefathers knew little of the oven for such uses), became an object of interest to more than one; and many were the sly colleens who, when the lad of her choice, placed in the fire a sprig of the still verdant holly, or ivy, that decorated the kitchen, would adroitly steal in another little sprig to the blazing pile, to see if her fortune burned and kept pace with his (like the burnt nuts of All-hallow’s Eve) a smooth current of happiness for the coming year was indicated.

Those were indeed, days of simplicity, when the Baron and the peasant met alike under the same roof; when even the  humble itinerant fiddler who played his way through the country was expected to witness the next aspirant to manhood lay hold of  the well-made substantial cake and with his mimic strength, dash it against the door, when it was shivered to pieces, whilst the assembled witnesses of the scene offered up in spirit a humble and fervent prayer, that cold, want, or hunger, might not enter that door for the ensuing year. The fragments of the cake were then scrambled for and certain was he, or she, who succeeded in securing the first fragment that touched the ground, that they too, would have a home and a New Year’s Cake ere the next year was out. To this succeeded a scene of romping, eating and drinking, dancing and singing, such as can only be witnessed in Ireland. (Illustrated London News 3 Jan. 1852)

Christmas Carol

Hail, hail, happy Christmas! thou ever art dear—
Long-wished-for holiday-tide of the year
Why should we not greet thee, with welcoming lay,
As a stranger who long time hath tarried away ?
Then welcome, O! welcome, to cottage and hall,—
Thy season of gladness dear unto all;
Though the leaves of December are blighted and few,
Yet, a gay garland we’ve planted for you.

Give the rose to the maiden, when Summer is bloom,—
The cypress and willow to bend o’er the tomb
Give the snow-drop to childhood—its fair bosom bears
The emblem of infancy, stainless with years;
The hero the laurel—the poet the bay.
The award of his talents—the meed of his lay;
But the garland, blithe Christmas! we’ll still twine for thee.
Is the evergreen leaves of the bright holly tree.

O! bright be the morn shall in-herald thee, then.
When faces, long absent, meet smiling again,
And the circle of home, which the long year hath parted,
Join once more, at its close, open-brow’d and light-hearted;
When the cares of the cold world our spirits forgot.
And the brother’s soft smile with the sister’s is met.
As they twine o’er the Christmas fire, blithely and free,
A wreathe of the bright holly’s evergreen tree.

Then, hail to thee, Christmas! for ever thou art
The joy-spring of rapture and bliss to each heart.
When the glow of delight on each young face appears,
And the father looks round on the flock of his years;
And the wife of his bosom, who sits by his side.
Smiles round on her children, with motherly pride.
While their loud voices mingle, in pleasure and glee.
As they dance round the bough of the green holly tree.

O! if there’s a time when the care-troubled breast.
Like a wing-wearied bird, would seek refuge and rest;
O! if there’s a time when the spirit would fain
Break away from his cares, like a slave from his chain,
’Tis when the first greeting awakes on his ear—
A blithe Merry Christmas, and happy New Year
For, dear to each breast must that welcoming be.
As is ever to Christmas the green holly tree

by Henry H.B.  Kilmorey street, Newry
(Newry Telegraph 24 Dec. 1839)


It has been said that analysis is the death of sentiment. And certainly there are many among us who do not find our enjoyment of the Christmas festival enhanced by the knowledge that the present date was not definitely settled upon, until the middle of the 4th century after the event, it was supposed to chronicle. Then there are those who, like Puritan Prynne, condemn the pagan origin of our best-beloved customs, thinking those things, which of a surety sprang from sun and fire worship little fitting to so Christian an occasion.

That we have received our Christmas traditions largely from heathen sources, no one can debate. The yule-log, once chiefest among, our merry ceremonials is undoubtedly a remnant of the glad-some rites with which the pagan world was wont to welcome the first lengthening of days when the sun was born again to the earth. Our very word “yule” is thought to be a modification of the old Norse festival of ‘Jol’ or ‘Jul’ which occurred at the winter-solstice. With still greater authority it is derived from the Gothic ‘giul’ or ‘huil’ the supposed origin of our word ‘wheel’. And it has been well noted that in the old almanacs a wheel was the approved symbol of Yuletide: probably because it suggested the annual revolution, at which time our remote ancestors delighted to kindle huge bonfires to their god, Thor.

But if the yule-log, directly traceable to paganism, so also were the Mummers and the custom of appointing a “Lord of Misrule.’ both which are an inheritance bequeathed by the Roman Saturnalia festivals, likewise belonging to the joyously welcomed winter-solstice. At one time the office of mock royalty was thought to be highly honourable.

These were all relics of a time when the heathen world made itself merry after the fashion of the credulous child it was. But we hope few would be found to condemn them solely on that account. For the matter of that, mirth itself, is older than any creed we know of. Is it, then, unchristian?

We think the good fathers of the Church did a wise thing when they entwined the old heathen festivals with Christian memories, thus separating from them, for our benefit, that portion which might fitly adorn the most blessed event we celebrate. After all we do not keep the date in honoured remembrance, so much as the event.

In one thing we may profitably imitate the Bosnian peasant. who settles all possible debts on the 3rd day before Christmas. When he cannot do this he gives to his creditors a full explanation of the cause. This is done. we are told, “so that all may be able to give one another the ‘kiss of peace.'” Ay! peace and good-will; these constitute the incarnation of Divine love afresh each year in human hearts.

It need, therefore, disturb no sensitive conscience that the observances of Yule-tide are many of them the offspring of a time that knew not the Lord. They are also rich in hallowed traditions of family affection and “good-will to all.”

As such we cherish our Christmas with whatever of yule warmth and brightness we can kindle in our own and other hearts.

Now all our neighbours chimneys smoke,
And Christmas blocks are burning:
Their ovens they with baked meat choke,
And all their spits are turning.

Though other’s purses be more fat.
Why should we pine or grieve at that?
Hang sorrow! care will kill a cat.
And therefore, let’s be merry.
(The Belfast Newsletter 26 Dec. 1888 )

A lyric for Christmas

Winter has resumed his reign;
Snow envelops hill and plain;
Sleep the summer flowers in earth.
And the birds refrain from mirth:
Yet mirth lightens every eye;
Every pulse is beating high;
Gladness smiles in cot and hall,
Like a winsome dame on all.
And the church-bells sweetly chime
’tis the merry Christmas time.

From the holly-tree be brought
Boughs with ruby berries fraught;
Search the grey oak high and low
For the mystic mistletoe
Bid the ivy loose her rings
That round rock or ruin clings;
Deck the shrine with foliage green
In each house verdure seen.
Just as earth were in her prime-
‘Tis the cheerful Christmas time.

Pile the board with viands rare
Savoury dishes—hearty fare;
Brawn of boar, and capon good.
Fowls from river, marsh and wood;
Partridge plump, and pheasant wild,
Teal and duck by art beguiled;
Bid the huge sirloin smoke nigh,
Luscious pastry, fruit-stored pie.
Fruit that grew in Eastern clime
’Tis the festal Christmas time.

Quickly broach the oldest cask.
Bring the goblet, bring the flask;
Ale of England, wine from Spain.
Rhenish vintage, choice champagne
Fill as wont the wassail bowl,
Let it round the circle trowl
Whilst the Yule-fire blazes bright.
Whilst the Yule-torch leads its light,
Till we hear the morning chime
’Tis the joyful Christmas time.

Feed the hungry, clothe the poor.
Chide no wanderer from the door;
Bounteous give, with thankful mind.
To the wretched of mankind.
This day throws the barrier down,
’Twixt the noble and the clown
For an equal share have all
In its blessed festival.
Of each colour, class, and clime
’Tis the holly Christmas time.

As our fathers used of old.
Still the solemn rites hold.
And with the season hallow’d mirth
celebrate our saviours birth,
chaunt those ancient carols well
That the wondrous story tell;
Call the jocund masquers in;
Bid the dancers’ sport begin.
Blameless tale and cheerful song
Shall our merriment prolong.
Whilst around the church-bell chime
For the solemn Christmas time.
(Armagh Guardian 24 Dec. 1844)

Irish Art (Christmas Cards)

The prettiest novelties in Christmas Cards which the present season has produced, are the Irish Christmas Cards which Cork has sent out. Here, around a kindly wish in Gaedhlic and in English, curves a luxuriant wreath of graceful shamrocks, with which, the symbolical Christmas rose, and the suggestive forget-me-not are intertwined.

Our only regret is that such charming memorials have not appeared before this, for we doubt not, they would have become, in many varied forms, adopted not only all over Ireland, but amongst the Irish in all foreign lands. We are reminded of a fact related to us, which may indicate how welcome they would be in America, A gentleman was commissioned to purchase a great quantity of religious prints on the Continent for the Irish-American market, he asked that the shamrock should be introduced as an ornament into the border. The agent in one great city, was unable to assent to it; the gentleman transferred the order to another, where it was eagerly accepted. Myriads of such shamrock-adorned prints have, consequently, gone out from the Continent of Europe to the United States. Myriads upon myriads of Irish Christmas cards would have been sped over the world, had our engravers and publishers only patriotism enough to comprehend the national feeling, and enterprise enough to gratify it. (The Irishman 30 Dec. 1876 )

Christmas Advertisement Cork Constitution 7 Dec. 1876 The Only Irish Christmas Cards Registered With Irish Mottoes are those designed ans Published by Francis GUY 70 Patrick Street, Cork.

“Boxing Night”

The origin of the phrase “Boxing Night” appears to be rather doubtful. In Chambers’ “Book of Days” we find the term “Boxing Day” explained in this fashion, “The day after Christmas, is called “Boxing Day” from being the day on which Christmas-boxes were given to servants and others. Now- a-days it is the custom in Ireland and England to give Christmas-boxes on the day before Christmas Day. In former times, however, shopkeepers made presents to their customers and even to their customers’ servants, on the day after Christmas Day. The Christmas-box system became such a social nuisance in the beginning of the present century that tradesmen at length put up notices in their shop windows that they would give no more Christmas-boxes, and in 1836 the English secretary of State for Foreign affairs issued a circular to the different Embassies requiring a discontinuance of the customary gifts to the messengers in the Foreign department. Whether the explanation above given of the term of a “Boxing Day” is quite accurate is, perhaps, however, a little questionable. Everyone knows that “Boxing Night” is the first night of the pantomime and it frequently happens that there is a great crush, and sometimes a tendency towards pugilism, on that occasion. This might furnish a more popular and perhaps quite as satisfactory, an interpretation for the words. (Freeman’s Journal 26 Dec. 1882)

“The Shops at Christmas Eve” (Londonderry)

Suppose the said spectator arrived in Derry by an afternoon train on the Belfast and Northern Counties Railway he might first pay some attention to the shops in the …..

Waterside District.

Commencing with something characteristic of the season, let him view the monster Christmas cake displayed in the window of Mr. Oliver EATON, baker and confectioner.

This marvellous triumph of the confectionery art, weighing half a ton, and towering about nine feet high, has had many admirers, and scores of people have left their orders for a portion of its contents. The cake, which was manufactured on the premises, is constructed in the form of a pyramid, the 7 gracefully receding tiers being supported on a number pillars of confectionery, beautifully entwined with vine tendrils, leaves, and bunches of grapes, the whole being surmounted by Old Father Christmas and a miniature yew tree. The bases  of the tiers are beautifully ornamented with chocolate and sugar panels, interspersed with roses, leaves, and swans in relief.

Mr. J. CRESWELL, Mrs. M’SPARRON and Mr. R. C. MALSEED have a varied selection of Christmas cakes, with the usual Christmas greetings, displayed in their shop windows, interspersed with dried fruits, tinned meats, &c.

Mr. THOMPSON’S green grocery establishment is trimmed with a variety of coloured grasses, and the window filled with seasonable fruits.

The entrance door to Mr. LONGELL’S shop is surmounted with the word “Welcome” in a setting of evergreens, flanked with miniature sheaves of ripe grain, and the windows are filled with Christmas cakes, bonbons and toys.

Mrs. CRAWFORD, Mr. H. C. HUNTER, Mr. Alexander THOMPSON, Messrs. LYNDSAY & Co., Mr. Thomas M’CULLY, and Mr. R. J. RODDEN have their windows and the interior of their respective establishments decorated with taste, the usual mottoes occupying conspicuous positions. Their windows are filled with a great variety of ornamented cakes, green and dried fruits, preserves &c.

The establishments of Messrs. P. & M. M’DEVITT, J. MacDONALD, J. FORBES & Sons, and Joseph M. MOONEY are all dressed with suitable goods for Christmas presents, including a magnificent display of silk handkerchiefs for ladies and gentlemen fur lined gloves, umbrellas, hand bags, and other articles of a most costly and substantial nature.

Most people will “understand” the appropriateness of a pair of home-made boots or shoes for a Christmas gift, at Mr. James HARPER’S establishment right well can they be supplied.

Messrs. SMITH and ADAIR are not behind either, in having a large and varied stock of boots and shoes in their establishments.

Mrs. WARD’S confectionery establishment on the Spencer road is worthy a passing note, seeing she has not been unmindful to provide a store of good things of home and foreign manufacture.

Children’s toys, Christmas greetings and literature of a varied description is shown to advantage by Mr. James NUTT in Duke street.

The visitor, in due course, arrives at and passes over Carlisle Bridge and soon finds himself on ….

Carlisle Road

Of late years photographs, with seasonable creatings are beginning to be much fancied by people whose friends are far away, circumstances prevent from visiting at Christmas. Of portraits such as these, there is a splendid collection of tastefully kept establishments of Mr. GLASS. Mr KERR has also a varied stock of a like nature.

Mr. A. EMERY, Mr. MONTGOMERY and Mr. W. H. NELIS booksellers and stationers, vie with each other in the variety of their Christmas greetings and suitable presents.

Mr. George ANDERSON, baker and confectioner, has provided an abundance of ornamental cakes with appropriate mottos. Robert MOONEY and Mr. T. A. AUSTIN have not been less solicitous for the happiness of their patrons, who will find their establishments with all the novelties of the season in the family grocery line. Messrs. GORDON & Co. have on view a great variety of suitable gifts. Passing into ….

Ferry-Quay Street

It will be seen that Mr. James JOHNSTON shows a great variety of Christmas cakes, bon-bons, and fruit loaves. The cakes have suitable mottoes, and are all sorts and sizes. A novelty is real boar’s head and with old Father Christmas supporting a tree on the branches of which numerous small tapers are burning, make the window in which they are placed very attractive. The motto “A Merry Christmas”, bordered with evergreens and artificial roses, adorns the beam crossing the centre of the shop and the shelving, gas brackets and window frames are also decorated with evergreens. Mr. Henry THOMPSON has adorned the window of his shop with a choice variety of cakes and sweetmeats on which are printed appropriate mottoes and floral designs.

Messrs. SEMPLE & THOMPSON, tailors and clothiers, have provided a select stock of seasonable articles for presents, including fur lined gloves, ties and collars, silk handkerchiefs, and umbrellas of best manufacture and a great variety other articles not necessary to particularise. Messrs. Alexander M’CAY & Co., family grocers, have decorated with their usual taste, the windows and interior of the shop being trimmed with lines of evergreens and mottoes in style both artistic and attractive. Over the entrance door is displayed the word “Welcome”, flanked with two handsome flags. Across the centre of the shop another motto in a setting of evergreens “All Christmas Joys be thine”, expresses the wishes of the proprietors. The windows are beautifully trimmed and filled with an immense variety of seasonable fruits, green and tinned, preserves, Christmas cakes, &c. From the gas-brackets in the shop are suspended fine large bunches of mistletoe. Messrs. IRVINE & Co., drapers and milliners, adhere to their old established custom of providing an abundant supply of the latest novelties in all departments at this season of the year and ladies and gentlemen desiring to send a useful present will find a choice variety to choose from. The windows are neatly, but not elaborately, dressed with a variety of useful articles suitable for Christmas, or New Year gifts. Their display of art and Lladnek drapery is exceptionally fine. Mrs. M’MILLAN’S handsome and well-furnished grocery establishment has been beautifully decorated and is amongst the most attractive in the city, reflecting the highest credit on the artistic skill of the proprietor and her assistants, whose patience must have been severely taxed in making such an elaborate display at this busy season. Over the doorway Mrs. M’MILLAN’S numerous patrons see conspicuously displayed her hearty greetings in the words. “Bright be thy Christmas” and by way of enabling them to make the season what she wishes it to be she has filled the windows with a magnificent assortment of the novelties of that time and ornamented them with sprigs of evergreens and flowers. The interior of the shop is also beautifully decorated with evergreens and such mottos as “A joyous Christmas” and “Happiness and prosperity for the coming year.” The entrance door is draped with white coloured bunting and a monster Japanese umbrella suspended from the roof, affords a resting place for a couple of foreign birds in brilliant plumage. Altogether the display is pleasing and artistic. Another shop worthy of more than a passing glance, not only at Christmastide, but indeed, all the year round is Messrs. TYLER & sons, boot and shoe warehouse. Here there is always a tastefully displayed stock. And then, what a brilliant display is made by the well known firm of Messrs. GILCHRIST & Co. In one window (that next Linenhall street) is a fine show of gentlemen’s goods, in the next boots, shoes, and slippers, coseys and cushions occupying another, scarfs, gloves and silk handkerchiefs giving attractive appearance to window four, while immediately adjoining it is an excellent display of children’s dresses, bonnets and other useful and pretty things for juveniles. The remaining window is decorated with plants in pots, grasses, muslins and beautiful window hangings. It is evident from the foregoing that the firm have a fine Christmas stock on hand, but it is only a few examples that are in the windows and intending purchasers must go inside in order to see the full extent of, admire, and patronise the goods. In this establishment there also is a choice collection of dress goods in cashmere, tweeds, serges and silks and there is no more suitable gift than a black silk dress. There is an extensive supply of beautiful goods in wool and furs and silk handkerchiefs are always acceptable presents at this season.

Among other articles which Messrs. GILCHRIST & Co. lay out as making pretty Christmas presents may be mentioned the ladies new long windsor scarfs, gentlemen’s silk mufflers, fur-lined and fur-topped gloves for ladies, children and gentlemen, umbrellas in great variety, and including many choice descriptions of handles, such as ivory, tortoise shell, Mexican onyx, while others are richly mounted in silver and plated gold. It is (?) to say that owing to the variety and abundance of the stock here, every taste could be suited. Mr. FALLER and Mr. John NELIS, watchmakers and jewellers, have on view at their respective establishments a wonderful variety of goods, embracing the latest novelties in their particular trade. Mr. NELIS’ fine new establishment is a great improvement to the street, and the stock being new and attractively displayed enhances the appearance of the shop immensely. Mr. HYNDMAN, tailor and hosier, whose establishment has long been noted for the high-class style of goods kept in stock, still maintains his good reputation. He has on view some beautiful samples of ties, cuffs, collars, fur-lined gloves, silk umbrellas, &c. for ladies and gentlemen, from the very best manufacturers. Mr. John FORRESTER of the Bible and Colportage society, has his windows neatly decorated with suitable Christmas presents for those of a literary turn of mind. Mr. Robert ORR, cook and confectioner, has his establishment very neatly decorated and the windows filled with cakes and confectionery, beautifully ornamented with mottoes and flowers. Messers. ROSBOROUGH & Co. have this year dispensed with artificial decoration and filled their windows with attractions of a more substantial and useful nature, including an ample stock of the ingredients which will probably enter largely into the composition of the festival provisions. The fine drapery and millinery establishment of Messers. George AUSTIN & Co., occupying such a prominent position in both Ferry-quay street and the Diamond, has been adorned with a wonderful variety of articles suitable for the season. Silk handkerchiefs for ladies and gentlemen, gloves of all kinds, silk umbrellas and ornamental handles and a hundred and one other articles are temptingly displayed to entice the anxious purchaser.

The Diamond…..

is now reached and the fine establishment of Messrs. GORDON & son is likely to first engage the attention. The pillars are encased in salmon and primrose art drapery, around which are gracefully entwined wreaths of evergreens and flowers. The large windows are filled with a charming collection of novelties in Carrara, Doulton, Bohemian, Minton, Coalport, Belleek, Japanese, Indian, Worcester, and Vienna ware, artificial plants and shrubs in pots and imitation cut flowers, some of which are perfect in form and colour as to be almost indistinguishable from the natural bloom. The Working Men’s House (Messrs. CHASE & co.) is abundantly supplied with a variety of choice things for the season, both of an ornamental and useful nature. The windows have been decorated with much taste and look splendid. There is a magnificent display of ties, collars, silk handkerchiefs, gloves, &c., in addition to an abundance of more substantial articles for every household. Mrs. HEGARTY, who has gained a high reputation as a dressmaker and milliner, has her windows tastefully furnished. The extensive establishment of the Misses M. and M. SCOTT is furnished in every department with novelties of a choice description, so that valuable and substantial presents of jewellery, toys, articles of furniture or ornaments for house decoration can be selected from an abundant and varied stock. The windows are neatly decorated and very attractive. The next move made by the spectator on this Christmas eve stroll will be towards….

Bishop Street

Messers. MULHOLLAND & Co.’s immense drapery establishment is the centre of attraction in this street. It has been decorated in elaborate style and presents a really charming picture. The fine large windows are filled with novelties of all kinds, interspersed with beautiful artificial plants in pots for table decoration, dyed grasses and other ornaments. The porch, or vestibule, is tastefully trimmed with evergreens and grasses, the whole arrangement reflecting great credit on the amateur artists who undertook the work. When lighted up the display is seen to great advantage and has been much admired. Cross the street then to view an establishment which is worthy of inspection in May as well in December; we mean the famous provision house of Mr. LIPTON’S. The shop assistants have decorated windows, pillars, beams, shelves and gas branches in a liberal and attractive manner and the shop at present is unusually brilliant. It would be impossible in the space at our disposal to give anything like an adequate idea of the great stock of provisions specially laid in for the Christmas trade and all of the best description. It is only by a personal visit that the extent and variety of the supply can be understood. The proprietor is always adding something to the stock, the latest addition being coffee, which is sold at as low a rate and gives as much satisfaction as the tea and Lipton’s tea is well and favourably known. The coffee is brought direct from the plantations and is sold at the very low price of 1s 6d.per lb. Coffee and chicory are also sold in the shop, but probably, people will prefer to pay the difference and get the pure article. The China and glass warehouse of Mrs. SAWYER’S is admirably decorated and looks remarkably well! The metal pillars are hidden from view by art drapery of a light blue tint, entwined with a wreath of ivy leaves and real plants, in pots, give freshness and variety to the magnificent collection of ornaments, vases, evening sets, &c. in Vienna, Hungarian, Spode, Adderly, Crown Derby. Doulton and Swiss Magolica ware, displayed in the windows. In ornaments, the latest and most artistic specimens are collections of lava figures, which will be much appreciated for mantel and corner bracket decoration.

Mr. D. CAMPBELL and Mr. H. M’DONNELL cabinetmakers and upholsterers, are showing a rare collection of bamboo, wickerwork and other tables, chairs and ornamental stands for vases, &c., the specimens embracing the latest novelties from the German, French, Japanese, and English markets. Messrs. COYLE & Co., house furnishers and jewellers, have decorated their windows with a wonderful variety of toys, jewellery, Christmas cards, musical instruments, &c. Ladies,  gentlemen and children will all find presents suitable to their tastes to select from.

Mrs. GALBRAITH, Miss GALLAGHER, Messrs. COSGROVE, CONNOR (this firm has a most attractive stock of goods); Messrs. GILCHRIST& Co., and Messrs. M. HARBISON & Co., milliners and drapers, have all decorated with much taste and show a variety of novelties. Miss KENNEDY, as usual, has a varied and excellent variety of toys, work-boxes, ‘ladies companions’, &c. on view. In Bishop-street (without) the only persons who have decorated are Mr. James SMITH, grocer, Mr. D. W. BOAL and Mr. William GRIEVE, all of whom have their windows very neatly trimmed with evergreens. By retracing one’s steps the Diamond is again reached and here an inspection of Messers. CRAMSEY Bros. (Irish Manufacture Depot) extensive stock of genuine Irish makes of tweeds, blankets, hosiery and flannels might well be made. At the present time this firm has on hand  a first rate stock of Irish-made goods. Perhaps it would now be advisable to “have a smoke” and for this the best materials can be had in the shop of Mr. BRESLIN.

Ship-quay Street

is now reached and here Messrs. OSBORNE & PATTON take the lead in point of tasteful decoration. The windows and interior of the shop have been beautifully trimmed with variegated holly and there is an abundance of good things shown for the enjoyment of patrons, including a variety of ornamented Christmas cakes, tinned and dried fruits, &c. The usual Christmas greeting, “Merry Christmas” occupies a prominent place on the central beam of the shop. The toothsome commodities displayed within are well calculated to tempt the purchaser, including as they do every variety of crystallised fruit, currants, raisins, spices, Christmas cakes, &c. One window of the establishment is filled with samples of Christie’s famous wines and whiskies and brandy. Of the contents of this shop it is unnecessary to speak. Its reputation has long since been established for everything of the best description and for reasonable prices. Another attractive shop on this street is that of Mr. Robert PATTERSON, watchmaker and jeweller, whose stock is among the most varied and in quality equal to anything in the North of Ireland. Mr. PATTERSON has done a good season’s trade and that is a pretty sure indication of the general prosperity of the city and district. The large window in Ship-quay street contains a fine selection of choice gold and silver, marble and bronze goods, at prices and in designs to suit all classes. The interior of the shop is very brilliant with the beautiful gold and silver and other ware arranged so as to attract attention and captivate customers. Ladies and gentlemen will find the stock up to latest requirements and in every respect suited for the season. A couple of doors further down Ship-quay street, Mr. J. A. MINNIECE is also in the jewellery and watchmaking business. His stock is large and good and the most exacting connoisseur will find his taste well provided for. There are watches, clocks, jewellery, electro-plate goods, brooches, and rings from a few shillings up to £50. There is, perhaps, nothing more attractive to intending purchasers of presents than a well stocked and well-dressed window. In these respects Mr. WIGHTMAN appears this season to have surpassed all previous efforts and proved clearly the fact that he is not only a practical man, but also a man of good taste in his buying and arranging of goods. We have seldom seen a better show of attractive novelties, comprising watches, gold and silver jewellery, pencils, scent bottles, matchboxes and thousand of other knick knacks suitable for this season. As regards quality and prices, we believe Mr. WIGHTMAN cannot be beaten, his long experience in England and Scotland enables him to know exactly where to buy and what to pay for every article he sells. Mr. WIGHTMAN, we understand, is also a large shareholder in one of the foremost manufacturing houses in Ireland, that of D. WIGHTMAN Limited, manufacturing jewellers, Belfast, of which his brother is managing director. The Belfast Newsletter, in referring to this house says “No firm in Ireland has done more to bring local manufactured goods before the public then Mr. WIGHTMAN’S, but his energy and enterprise are now being rewarded, as the firm is doing one of the largest trades in the country.” Owing to those advantages we can understand the success of our local friend, who for his short time in Derry, has made such rapid strides and we have no doubt that anyone on the lookout for a suitable present will be satisfied once they patronise Mr. WIGHTMAN.

Those in search of the beautiful, or artistic, in geld, silver- plated ware, or pretty household ornaments, need only visit Messrs. ANDREWS & Co.’s well-known establishment to have their wishes gratified. Messrs. A. & J. DUNN, the new grocery firm at Ship-quay street, have decorated their windows with pretty effect. Their display of articles suitable to the season is very creditable. They advertise special value in “Xmas teas”, and have a great show of French, German and American confections, and Christmas novelties. Messrs. GOODMAN, H. E. DUGAN and W. KANE of Richmond street, have all a fine show of seasonable fruits and flowers, in addition to an abundant supply of mistletoe. Their shops are very tastefully decorated with flowers and evergreens. Messrs. R. S. and T. STEVENSON, drapers, the Christian Knowledge Depository, Mrs. CLEMENTS, Mr. MITCHELL and Mr. James HEMPTON have all been providing novelties, which are shown to advantage in their respective establishments. Messrs. SMITH & Co.’s Christmas novelties are numerous and attractive, embracing a great variety of articles of wearing apparel for children, ladies and gentlemen.

Passing along to the gats (gates?) the visitor shortly arrives at……

Waterloo Place

Here Messrs. HOLMES & MULLIN, whose fine establishment has recently undergone considerable extension and improvement, were this year, reluctantly compelled to abandon artificial decoration owing to the increase of business in all departments. However, the windows and interior of the shop have been filled with an abundance of good things for the Christmas larder. A source of great attraction is a mechanical figure representing an old woman dressed in ancient costume, who is apparently expressing her opinion that there is no tea like HOLMES & MULLIN’S and then would add by way of  amplification that “It’s pure, choice and delicious and reminds me of the good old teas of long ago”. A portion of the shop has been fitted up for sweets and confectionery and the provision department has been extended. Additional artificial light has been provided by a magnificent Wenham lamp over the doorway. Mr. Joseph SHERRARD’S Waterloo Tea House, a concern equal to any in the city for the superior quality of the article sold in it, looks remarkably well with its prettily stocked windows of many of the delicacies of the season. In one of them is seen samples of favourite fruit cake, sold at four pence per pound, half a ton of which has recently been delivered to Mr. SHERRARD. These samples are surrounded by a great variety of articles, such as fruit, dessert raisins, currants, figs, chocolates, bon-bons, fruit wines, jellies and Christmas cakes by several makers. In the other window are shown provisions of all kinds. Both windows are decorated with holly and laurel leaves and when illuminated in the evening have a handsome appearance. Mr. William GAILEY’S stock of fancy goods is very interesting and the large heaps of artistic Christmas and New Year cards attract crowds of searchers after the beautiful all day long. The proprietors courtesy and capacity for business have built up a splendid trade. Messrs. John COOKE & Co., T. & J. SMILEY and MOONEY & Co., have on view in their respective establishments a great variety of mechanical and other toys, which will, doubtless, be the means of affording considerable gratification and amusement to young people during the holidays. Miss FOSTER of the….


has achieved a unique and artistic effect in the decoration of her establishment. The permanent embellishment of the shop is in itself executed with much taste, but its appearance is greatly enhanced by the chaste design that has been carried out. The prevailing colour of the decoration is apple green, relieved here and there, by salmon-pink. From the ceiling depend a number of chinese lanterns, which diffuse a soft, rich light on the pretty interior. The glass cases on the counter and other places are filled with the tempting pastry and confectionery for which this house is well known, while in the window is seen a bank of artificial snow, having embedded in it bunches of crystallised fruit sparkling in the light. Christmas cakes, by both Derry and other makers, are shown variety, in addition to other luxuries. The shop is well worth seeing and its contents are equally well worth testing. The old established concern owned by Mr. J. B JOHNSTON still maintains the enterprise, which has characterised it since the beginning. At present the genial proprietor has the premises stocked with all the seasonable articles of the grocery trade and the purchaser would be hard to please, who could not be supplied with many of those luxuries so necessary to the maintenance and reputation of the Christmas festival. There are fruit loaves in every shape and size and an endless assortment of groceries and confectionery. Mr. JOHNSTON’S tea has attained a great reputation for flavour and strength, and as nothing is more acceptable at this, or in fact, any time of the year, than a packet of good tea, various sized parcels of the famous blend sold here have been made up ready for delivery. In the wine and spirit branch, special features are very old Jameson whisky, delicious pale sherry, old tawny port and splendid claret. Messrs. J. Graham POLLACK & Co. establishment on the Strand road presents a very pretty and appetising appearance with its great stock of “Christmas cheer.” The decoration of the shop has been effected with much taste and will be generally admired. Over the porch is the motto “A hearty welcome to all”, worked on white on a crimson ground, and bordered with evergreens. An attractive feature in one of the windows is an ingeniously constructed figure of a Japanese lady, dressed in silk and satin. She is represented as drinking a cup of Pollock’s famous blend, while in her left hand she twirls a parasol. While the figure is set in motion, a striking feature of it is the winking of the eyes and the movement of the ‘muscles’ of the throat. In another window is shown an immense assortment of provisions of all kinds, including some fine turkeys, geese and various kinds of game. The interior of the establishment is of an equally pleasing description, the colour of the evergreens harmonising with the lighter tints of the articles on the shelves. Pater-familias would, indeed, be hard to please if he could not find here much that goes to make Christmas enjoyable. Mr. P. T. RODGER has provided a supply of pampas grass for decorative purposes, which has come all the way from Japan and America to adorn the dwellings of the citizens during the Christmas festival. Mr. Humphrey BABINGTON’S establishment is well known and largely supported. In the wine and spirit branch he has on sale an old rum, which he strongly recommends for influenza patients. The confectionary establishment of Mr. B. M’CANN on the road, has been very tastefully decorated with a profusion of evergreens, interspersed with appropriate mottoes. The window is filled with sweets, apples, oranges and a great variety of attractions for the young folk.

Sackville street

There is an almost entire absence of artificial decoration in Sackville street. Mr. W. J. WATT seems to be the only exception. He has his window frame trimmed with lines of variegated holly and filled with Christmas cakes. Messrs. GALBRAITH & ALLISON, and Messrs. J. HADDEN & Co., who in former years were foremost in way of brilliant displays, found business too brisk and time too limited to decorate with evergreens, and therefore, like Mr. W. HOUSTON, Mr. W. CAMPBELL and Mr. W. J. ELDER contented themselves with filling the windows of their respective establishments with Christmas cakes, green and dried fruit &c. Mr. HADDEN displays a large flag extolling the quality of his teas. Mr. BREWSTER, baker and confectioner, as usual, has his windows filled with tempting specimens of his own manufacture in the shape of choice fruit cakes. Mr. Richard GALLAGHER, butcher, Waterloo street, has his shop beautifully decorated with evergreens and appropriate mottoes and abundantly stocked with fresh meats of all kinds. (Derry Journal 24 Dec. 1891)

Christmas Advertisement Northern Constitution – Saturday 30 November 1889 “Remember Your Friends Abroad” Irish Christmas Cards, Beautifully Designed With the real Shamrock and suitable Mottoes. ‘Opalines’ Local view of Coleraine and district. Each packed in separate wood box for safe transmission by post and contain a pretty suitable card with Christmas and New Year Greetings. Albums of Ireland 53 views, 1s. Our new sample book of private Christmas cards, with your own name and address specially printed. A choice Selection, Fashionable, Elegant, Inexpensive. Miss WOODS, Bookseller and Stationer. Coleraine and Portrush.

What Now?

A Merry Christmas ! Pile on the Yule log; let flow the,—

Well, what in dickens is it ? There is no such thing as retirement at Christmas. No sooner than you gather your pens and paper about you and sit down to write but “bang” goes the door-knocker, and in walks the maid.

A turkey, by Jingo, a turkey for the unworthy “Rambler.” And a card. Don’t know the writing. I don’t know it from Adam. But it is a ladies. “Rambler, with Mrs W’s kind regards,” It is bound up like an Egyptian mummy,—the turkey, I mean. The outer covering is one of plain sacking. The inner, is of something like cambric, but I was never at good diagnosing fabrics. What a splendid turkey, to be sure! It is white, and plump, and large, but that it presents a striking resemblance to a small human corpse, it is a most pleasing object to let the eyes dwell upon. Put it way. I like the interruptions of this kind. When you come to think of it they are not really annoying interruptions. Many thanks to you, Mrs W. I wish you and your husband, and the children, if there are any, all the compliments of this pleasant festive season. And now to resume our little Christmas essay.

Merry Christmas! Pile on the Yule log; let flow the ruby wine in crystal goblets, and without stint, For this is the glorious season,—

Another go at the knocker.

Not another turkey surely! Well, Mary? Shut the door, will you! That draught is enough to perish one. What is it ? A what ? Show me. Why the mischief must they tie up parcels in that confounded way. There is as much cord round it, would make a draw-net. A goose, and a fat one!

Well, l am — show me address. Man’s writing. bad hand, to be sure.

“Rambler, with Terry Rafferty’s best wishes.” Bravo, Terry! You must have found another youngster in the lane. I believe. Well, Mary, we shall not starve in this establishment on Christmas Day. Run away, now; for the printers are waiting. Where was I?

Merry Christmas! Pile on the Yule log let flow the ruby,—

Well, by Gum, this beats all. Another welt at the knocker. Why the blue monkeys didn’t they come earlier in the day? What do you say, Mary? A box? Get the hammer. A box with ‘Sunlight Soap” printed on the outside. But I hope it’s not soap on the inside. They have nailed the box, as if it wasn’t to be opened till the Judgment day. Now for it. A cake-maker “Bell.” A bottle of,— vinegar, is it? or wh,- whiskey, by George! Put it over on the sideboard. The idea of sending a Vice-Chaplain of the Tyrone Alliance Lodge of Good Templars whiskey! However, it won’t be lost. I shall send it to the next church bazaar in Omagh to be raffled for. What next? Great Scott! Another turkey!!

“From your affectionate Aunt Jane”. Aunt Jane, Aunt Jane, you should have known better than to go to such reckless expense. I must write and thank her. Clear all away, Mary; I must get to work. These interruptions are very upsetting. But they are nice. Let me once more begin my thesis.

A Merry,—

Rat-tat-tat! rat-tat-tat! Bang ? whack ! !

If this goes on I must run away. However, there might be worse irritations than these Christmas offerings. Two parcels. From well-known bores of mine. A sinister-looking plum-pudding, ready made, from one; a sad-looking goose, with the head, feet and feathers on, from the other. While I am holding an inquest on the dubious-looking goose, and wondering whether I ought to get Dr. Thompson to perform a post mortem examination on the remains of the feathered biped, there comes another ‘knock, followed by an irruption of seven packages, all suggestive, more or less of “good cheer’’ But I must get to work. I am happy and satisfied, and comfortable, to be sure, but work must be done. So once again I take up my pen.

A Merry Christmas. Pile on the Yule log! let flow the ruby wine until in each sparkling goblet, the diamondy bubbles rise to the surface, chasing one another as if instinct with the joyousness of the season. For is not this the season when, though winter’s white mantle may encircle the earth, human spirits glow, and human hearts re,—

Whack-a-bang! whack! whack !!

Dear me, I never thought I was so popular. I wonder what kind of favour has now come to the door. A letter! Only a letter? Ah, yes, but I have known letters to contain great things. You can put in a letter more value than you can cram into the biggest box. I open it. No,—there is no enclosure. How queer.

I unfold it. Ah! Open that bottle of whiskey, Mary, and get me some hot water and mustard for my feet. I have got the cramps. Let me quote the, postscript to the Bill :

The above account is now overdue 4 years. If I do not hear from you by return post with a settlement of same, I shall be reluctantly compelled to place the matter in the hands of my solicitor.”

The phenomenal scoundrel ! To send me a letter like that at Christmas.

To upset me at a time like this, when I was just about to write something touching and seasonable for the readers of the Tyrone Constitution. However, I shall have my revenge. I will give my custom, in future, to the chap on the other side of the street. That will bit the rascal in a sore spot. I cannot finish my essay. This sort of thing destroys that cheerful mental equipoise which is essential to effective literary composition.

P.S.— By the way, and before I forget it, if any reader of this paper, wants a very Irish and eloquent looking plum-pudding, done up in a cloth and a goose with the bair* on, that may have laid golden eggs in an age that is long past, he can have the same for a small sum by applying to…..

The Rambler, Constitution Office. (Tyrone Constitution 25 Dec. 1896)

note of transcriber – * bair. Food or other lure placed on a hook or in a trap and used in the taking of fish, birds, or other animals.

Quaint New Years Customs

Almost every nation has its New Year’s festival. Hindoos, Persians, Turks, Chinese, Japanese and Jews all unite in celebrating the opening of the year, though they keep it at various occasions. In olden times the year began in the spring and there was a tradition that the world was created that season. March was originally the first month, and the 25th, or Lady Day, was formerly New Year’s Day, in fact, the legal year began on this date long after the civil and popular year commenced in January. New Year’s customs may be traced to various sources. Some merely form part of the Christmas festivities, others are derived from the Druids, or the Saxon and Scandinavian feasts, which took place at this season, but by far the greatest number may be traced back to “The Roman Festival of Janus”, held on the Calends of January, when gifts and good wishes were exchanged and friends met together with mirth and feasting and dancing, masking and muming were the order of the day, just as they were at the Saturnalia, from which so many of our Christmas customs are derived. It is evident from many old writers that gifts were offered to the Emperors on this festival, many costly presents being given, besides the ordinary New Year’s gifts, which consisted of honey, figs, dates and a small piece of money, and were given as tokens of the sweetness with which the New Year was to begin. All the patricians brought very costly presents to the Emperor, and it seems that this practice continued for several days and at length became a severe tax upon the nobles, for Tiberius made a law forbidding the giving of New Year’s gifts, except on the Calends of January. The Roman workmen were careful to work a little on New Year’s Day, that they might not want for custom throughout the year, and probably this is the origin of the superstition that whatever one is doing on New Year’s Day will be one’s most frequent occupation during the year. It is supposed to be very unlucky to be in bed on this day, for illness is sure to follow. It is lucky to receive money, as that is a sign that one will not want for it during the New Year, but it is unlucky to pay it away. In that case, one will go on spending lavishly for the next twelve months. If anything is broken on this day, the culprit will have a series of breakages through the year. Probably this is why in some parts of the country no one will wash glass dishes on New Year’s Day, lest some accident should befall.

The Old Custom of “First-Footing” still lingers in Scotland and the North of England, as well as in some parts of Ireland. Directly after midnight on New Year’s Eve merry parties of young people visit each other’s houses, often bearing a steaming kettle of punch, or “het pint,” and cakes, of which everyone is expected to partake. Good wishes are exchanged, healths are drunk and glad voices unite in singing “Auld Lang Syne” and “Here’s to the Year That’s Awa’.” In Ireland the “first footing” generally takes place early on New Year’s morning, when the grey, cold winter dawn is just stealing over mountain and glen, bog and ravine. It is supposed to be very lucky if the “first-foot” is a fair man; a dark man, a woman, a red-haired, or squinting person is supposed to bring ill-luck. Many of the peasantry have a strong objection to red hair and the reason they give is that Judas had looks of this fiery hue, so, although a golden or flaxen haired man is a desirable first-foot, a red-haired one is considered a sign of ill-luck. There is a widely-spread superstition that the first person of the opposite sex one sees on New Year’s Day will be one’s future husband, or wife, hence girls are very careful not to meet any man whom they dislike before they have seen their favourite swain. The first-foot is supposed to bring something into the house, as a sign of plenty and prosperity in the coming year. A stick is often chosen for the purpose, or perhaps some little gift is brought. It is supposed to be very unlucky to take anything out of a house before something is brought in.

Sitting up to see the New Year is an almost universal custom. In Ireland the huge Christmas candle is lighted for the second time on New Year’s Eve and allowed to burn all night. It is lighted for the third and last time on Twelfth Eve, “Little Christmas”, or “the women’s Christmas,” as the Munster peasants call it. Oddly enough, a very similar custom prevails in Russia, for many Irish and Russian Christmas and New Year customs are identical. Girls in both countries pour melted lead into cold water through the ring or wards of a key on Christmas, or New Year’s Eve, declaring the strange shapes it assumes are an indication of the trade of the future husband and watch before the mirror as the ‘Old Year dies’, thinking that the face of their lover will be reflected in it. Both those charms are also worked on All-hallows’ Eve. There was a curious old Irish custom of throwing an oatcake against the house door on New Year’s Eve, at the same time wishing plenty and prosperity to one’s own home and district, and want and hunger to the other provinces. Thus a Munster man wished hunger to Connaught, or Leinster, and vice-versa., while all three united in wishing misfortune to Ulster. In the North of Ireland children go round on New Year’s Day asking for cakes and money, just as the Scotch bairns demand their “Hogmanay.” They carry ropes of twisted straw, known as “sugganns,” which are generally used to confine the wandering feet of the pig and drive him to market, for the “jintleman who pays the rint” has a decided objection to walking in the way he should go and needs coercion. These “sugganns” are offered by the children to their benefactors, and are supposed to confer good fortune.

The New Year Carols were once so popular in Scotland that the last day of the year was called ” Singin’ E’en.” Until the beginning the present century the “Wassailers” went about in Gloucestershire on New Year’s Eve carrying a great wooden wassail-bowl decked with ribbons and garlands. The word “wassail” is the Saxon “Waes hael”, “Your health,” and ancient toast.

Mummers, Morris-Dancers and the ” Fool Plough” still go about from house to house on New Year’s Day in some parts of the country. The Fool Plough is dragged by a number of young men, with shirts, or smock-frocks, trimmed with ribbons and rosettes, worn over their ordinary clothes. They are accompanied by “the Fool” and “Bessy,” both fantastically arrayed. The custom is a relic of the “Festival of Fools,” formerly held on New Year’s Day. (Dundee Evening Telegraph  3 Jan. 1901)

Christmas Card 1876 N.L.I. Ref.. Arthur Conans Xmas Scrapbook 4188 TX 2

The Wren and St. Stephen’s Day

To the editor of the Northern Whig – Sir,
The reference in to-day’s Whig to the celebration known as ‘the Burying of the Wren’ induces me to send you the following, which may interest some of your readers. The hunting of this harmless little bird on Christmas and on the following day was a very ancient custom in Ireland, but more prevalent in the Southern counties, such as Cork and Kerry, than in the North. It is alluded to by Smith in his History of Cork, written about the middle of the eighteenth century. He says,  “to hunt and kill him, is an ancient custom the Irish on St. Stephen’s Day” and he mentions “an old man, who had then recently (i.e., about 150 years ago now) died at the age of 100, whose boost it was that he had hunted the wren for the last eighty years on Christmas Day.” The practice is alluded to in Drummond’s “Rights of Animals”; also in Mr. and Mrs. S. C. Hall’s “Ireland.”

The bird, mounted on a holly bush, was carried from house house by a number of boys, levying contributions, as the Christmas rhymers do now and singing at each house they stopped at the following ditty;

The wran, the wran, the king of all birds,
St. Stephen’s Day was caught in the furze;
Although he is little his family’s great.
Put your hand in your pocket and give us a trate.
Sing holly, sing ivy; sing ivy, sing holly,
A good dhrop of dhrink just to dhrown melancholy.
And if you dhraw it ov the best
We hope in heaven your sowl may rest;
But if you dhraw it ov the small
It won’t agree wid da wren boys at all.

I suppose persons in a different rank life observed the same custom, but in the different way mentioned by you.
Yours, &c.
R. L. P. Croft House, Holywood, December 29, 1903.
(Northern Whig 30 Dec. 1902 )

Christmas in Ireland

Conservative in all things, the Irish people preserve still, all the old Christmas traditions of bygone venerations with infinite solicitude. The tall Christmas candles are still burnt in hundreds of homesteads throughout the country, a ceremony that has a religious sanctity attached to it, as has also the knocking of the cake against the door accompanied by an incantation not altogether favourable it must be admitted to the prosperity of the Saxons domiciled in Ireland. The Christmas dinner, the family gathering, the good cheer of the season, are all faithfully preserved by the great mass of the Irish people, who have not yet been contaminated by the counter attractions of many large cities and first-class restaurants. (The Tatler 23 Dec. 1903)

An Irish Christmas Tradition and a Custom we Might Revive

Santa Claus, the Yule Log and indeed, too, the Plum Pudding are Christmas associations that, strange as it may seem, are purely English in origin. The eminent Catholic surgeon, Sir Victor Horsley, an Englishman, describes Father Christmas as one of the 3 most British institutions—the other 2 being Henry VIII and John Bull. The trio, by the way, he asserts to be examples of fatty degeneration caused by chronic alcoholism.

Associated in Ireland with the great Christmas Festival we have a very beautiful custom, still extant in some parts. For the peasantry it was usual on Christmas Eve to have lighted candles, generally blessed wax candles, placed in the windows of their dwellings, mostly in the kitchen, and the front door, left on the latch. Usually, too, before the household retired for the night, the floor was cleaned and a fine big fire left blazing on the hearth. From its bright, cheerful appearance, its warmth and light and tidy aspect, the house seemed ready to welcome the approach of some well-beloved friend or distinguished stranger. And so indeed it was.

 In Donegal, as in the West, the candle also burns at Christmas and the house awaits the stranger, ready to extend hospitality. That distinguished antiquarian and scholar. Mr. Francis BIGGAR of Belfast, has written enthusiastically of this grand old custom, and more than once made warm appeals for its general revival. Its influence on a community must be wholesome and elevating.

Try to make at least one person happy every day, and then in ten years you will have made 3,650 persons happy or brightened a small town by your contribution to the fund of general enjoyment. (Drogheda Independent 27 Dec. 1919)

An Irish Christmas Legend

Pile high the turf upon the fire,
And make the cabin bright,
And put no bolt upon the door
This blessed Christmas night;
For if so be they pass this way,
And she in trouble sore.
They’ll know an Irish welcome waits
Beyond the open door.

Now place the Christmas candles there
Put one for every pane
That they may see the blessed light
A shinin’ through the rain;
The curlew calls across the sky.
The winds are keening low.
Who knows but here they’ll rest a while,
As on the way they go?

One Christmas Eve, long, long ago.
The doors were bolted fast.
And in the dawn^s grey light they found
Their footsteps as they passed;
For this the Christmas lights are set.
The doors are open wide.
That in her travail she may know
A place she may abide.

The inns were full, but there is room.
This blessed Christmas night,
For Mary and her Holy Child
Where shines the Christmas light.
Then set a candle in each pane,
That, passing, they may know
A welcome waits the holy child
Where Christmas lights do glow.

by~ Rev. D. A. CASEY
(from St. Joseph College Lilies 1921-22)


Once more the great Christmas Festival draws nigh, and though many of us grumble at the extra strain on our purses, there are few after all, who would not say with Scrooge’s nephew, “God bless it”

The mistletoe was sacred to the Druids, and had more power attributed to it than that of granting immunity for snatching salute from the unwary fair. It is a common fallacy to suppose that this mystic parasite will not grow in Ireland, and although it is not indigenous as it is in England, a little care will enable it to thrive this side of the Channel. The lighting of the Christmas candle is still observed in Ireland, but chiefly at Candlemas, or Old Christmas Day, when many a hillside in the south and west is brilliantly illuminated by great candles placed in the cottage windows. This custom seems to have died out in England, where at St. John’s College, Oxford, on old stone socket, carved with a lamb, is shown in the buttery, at once having been used for holding the Christmas candle.

It is only since Queen Victoria’s marriage that Christmas trees have been general in these countries, they being a distinctly German institution. Yet from whatever sources we gather the various modes of celebrating our great Festival, they all tend towards one great end, that of promoting good fellowship and consideration towards others.

Then there are the children, to whom Christmas is the great season of the year, anticipated with eager pleasure and parted from with regret. Perhaps they are the only ones to whom it brings less pain than pleasure. They have no old memories of happy gatherings in the past which can never be re-assembled in this world; to them the present, with its pretty gifts and merry games, is all in all, the remembrance of which will be carried into later years treasured possession. It is another large milestone in their lives, another little signpost, in our own, How slowly these passing time-marks used to glide us; how quickly they now speed on! For a few weeks the shops seem gayer, the footpaths more crowded, the calls on our pockets more frequent, and then another yearly cycle is begun. Although we crown the Lord of Misrule no more, and mummer and wassail have been relegated to the past, perhaps the spirit of Christmas is more truly understood more than of yore, when we celebrate it more nobly by giving what we can afford to those in need than our forefathers did by excess of eating and uproarious mirth.

As “the heart grows rich in giving”, so do we help towards the realisation of that first Christmas carol sung by the Heavenly choir to the rough peasants of old—”Peace on Earth; Good will towards Men.” (Tyrone Constitution 22 Dec. 1899)

Christmas Card (N.L.I. Ref. Conan-Strahan Collection Scrapbook Album, 4188 TX 5)

Transcribed and compiled by Teena from the sources herein mentioned and the British Newspaper Archives