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Celebrate a Gaelic Christmas

Sudbury Living Magazine December 6, 2013 Holiday No Comments on Celebrate a Gaelic Christmas

Nollaig Shona Duit. That’s Gaelic for Happy Christmas. Here are some of the Irish Christmas traditions, information available from

Ireland, like most countries, has a number of Christmas traditions that are all of its own. Many of these customs have their root in the time when the Gaelic culture and religion of the country were being suppressed and it is perhaps because of this they have survived into modern times.

The placing of a lighted candle in the window of a house on Christmas Eve is still practised today. It has a number of purposes but primarily it was a symbol of welcome to Mary and Joseph as they travelled looking for shelter. The candle also indicated a safe place for priests to perform mass as, during Penal Times this was not allowed.

A further element of the tradition is that the candle should be lit by the youngest member of the household and only be extinguished by a girl named name Mary.

After evening meal on Christmas eve the kitchen table was again set and on it were placed a loaf of bread filled with caraway seeds and raisins, a pitcher of milk and a large lit candle. The door to the house was left unlatched so that Mary and Joseph, or any wandering traveller, could avail ofthe welcome.

The placing of a ring of Holly on doors originated in Ireland as Holly was one of the main plants that flourished at Christmas time and which gave the poor ample means with which to decorate their dwellings.

All decorations are traditionally taken down on Little Christmas (Jan. 6) and it is considered to be bad luck to take them down beforehand.

Irish Christmas Cake
The cake tastes best when baked 1–3 weeks ahead of time. This traditional cake is served at holiday festivities throughout December. It is traditionally decorated with marzipan (almond paste), white icing, and holly sprigs.


◦2¼ cups dried currants
◦2 cups golden raisins
◦1 cup dark raisins
◦¼ cup candied cherries
◦¼ cup candied fruit peel
◦2/3 cup almonds, chopped
◦1 lemon (juice and grated rind of its peel)
◦1½ teaspoons allspice
◦½ teaspoon nutmeg, ground
◦1 cup Irish whiskey (used in ½-cup amounts; may substitute ½-cup strong tea)
◦2 sticks butter, room temperature
◦1 cup firmly-packed light brown sugar
◦5 eggs
◦2 cups flour
◦Marzipan (almond paste)
◦White icing (purchased)
◦Holly sprigs (optional decoration)

1.The day before baking: Combine all the fruit, peel, rind and juice, spices, and nuts in a large bowl with ½ cup of the whiskey (or tea) and let soak overnight.
2.The day of baking: Preheat oven to 275°F and grease a 9-inch round cake pan, lining the bottom with cooking parchment paper.
3.In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy.
4.Beat the eggs in one at a time, adding flour with each egg.
5.Mix in the remaining flour and soaked fruit.
6.Pour the mixture into the cake pan and bake until it is firm to the touch and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, about 2 hours.
7.Let the cake cool in the pan for 30 minutes. If substituting tea for whiskey, skip this step: Prick the top in several places and pour the remaining ½ cup whiskey over the top.
8.Wrap in plastic wrap, then foil, and store in a cool, dark place for several weeks to allow the cake to mature (fully absorb the flavors). The cake can be unwrapped occasionally and more whiskey added, if desired.

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