Saturday, December 09, 2006


How do you put Ireland in a nutshell? Even their Christmas traditions are rich, complex and woven with threads of Celtic imagery. Being part Irish in both heritage and inclination, my clan was eager to learn more about Irish holiday traditions.

The familiar carol "Twelve Days of Christmas" took on a whole new meaning for us, as we learned that it was written as a Catechism of the basic tenets of Catholic beliefs. In a time when Irish Catholics had to hide the evidence of their continuing faith, this song allowed children to learn about God, "the true love" in the song who gives gifts to the singer. And these are the gifts given to each Baptised believer:

A Partridge in a Pear tree is Jesus, the son of God.
2 Turtle Doves are the Old and New Testaments of the Bible.
3 French Hens Faith, Hope and Charity, the theological virtues.
4 Calling Birds are the 4 Gospels, or the 4 Evangelists.
5 Golden rings represent the first five books of the Bible, also known as the Pentateuch.
6 Geese a-laying stand for the 6 days of Creation.
7 Swans a-swimming are the 7 Gifts of the Spirit, the 7 Sacraments.
8 Maids a-milking are the 8 Beatitudes.
9 Fruits of the Spirit or sometimes listed as the 9 classifications of Angels.
10 Lords a-leaping remind singers of the 10 Commandments.
11 Pipers piping represent the 11 faithful apostles.
12 Drummers drumming are the 12 points of doctrine in the Apostle's Creed.

There are other sources on the Internet, but when we learned about this I used Anna's pages about Ireland. Look here for her page about Irish Christmas customs: I was glad to see that these interesting pages about Ireland are still maintained.

The simple act of lighting a candle in the window at this cold, dark time of year has its origin in the Celtic traditions that preceded the arrival of Christianity in Ireland. In Christian households, the candlelight offers welcome to the Holy Family or hospitality to any lonely traveller. In other homes, the candle symbolizes the return of sunlight at the Winter Solstice.

Irish tradition is filled with story-telling, song and laughter. These elements have always been an integral part of our family. In fact, many of our stories have a distinct Irish lilt. Limerick's family history is peopled with Irish lads stowing away on cattle-boats and other fascinating characters, so looking to Ireland for Christmas traditions was not like visiting a foreign land at all. It was more like coming home.
first photo by Haiku, second photo by Aisling

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