We’ve been very excited about the Christmas season in Ireland. We asked ourselves questions like: Do the Irish celebrate Christmas like we do in continental Europe? Are there Christmas markets including mulled wine and roasted almonds? Will a Christmas tree be standing in the Irish living rooms?
So we set out on a search for Irish Christmas markets, tested a total of three different ones across Ireland (and Northern Ireland) and learned about Irish Christmas traditions. We also baked Irish-y Christmas cookies at the beginning of December. Pictures and a recipe can be found at the end of the article. 😉
Christmas Markets in Irish
It turned out that Christmas markets are still quite a new phenomenon on the green island. Only during the last 10 years, the German tradition first spilled over to England and then to Ireland. Only a few cities have real Christmas markets, including Dublin, Cork, Galway and Belfast. Even in smaller towns there are little Christmas market here and there, but they are more similar to craft fairs or are Christmas worlds just for children, where they can meet “Santa Claus”.
The first Christmas market we tested was the one in Galway. We were there at the beginning of December with friends from Germany. Unfortunately it rained the whole evening, but it was bearable wrapped up warmly and with a hot cider in one hand. 😉 The so-called “Galway Continental Christmas Market” took place between the 16th of November and the 22nd of December for the 9th time this year . Approximately 50 stands around the Eyre Square as well as a big wheel, a children carousel and the “German Bier Keller” belong to its repertoire. For German standards, a rather small Christmas market for one of the largest cities in Ireland. Thankfully, Galway doesn’t only consist of the Eyre Square, so we were able to guide our guests along the lit lanes of the Latin Quarter and lead them to one of our favourite pubs, which was also decorated for Christmas.
One week later we went to the capital of Northern Ireland for the first time, where we checked out the Belfast Christmas Market as the first thing after arriving in the evening, of course . Set against the stunning backdrop of the splendid Belfast City Hall, the Northern Irish Christmas Market has been flaunting since November 17 until December 22. The selection of Christmas drinks and food was much larger here, if not cheaper though. In addition to beautifully decorated huts with Irish handicrafts, delicious Belgian waffles and original German mulled wine, there were also a few smaller carousels for children. Also local specialties such as lobster burger and other sea food were offered. In addition, the nearby Victoria Square spread a Christmassy big city flair that is second to none.
Shortly before our Christmas holiday in Germany we went to a small Christmas market in the award-winning “Mckenna’s Guide Irish Pub of the Year 2018”. In the converted barns of the Pot Duggans in Ennistymon a small local Christmas market, that rather resembled a Christmas-themed craft fair, took place on two weekends in December. Instead of mulled wine, there was delicious hot cider from a local good in Cork. We were especially taken with the view from the beer garden over the river Inagh and the colourfully illuminated bridge.
The Irish Christmas markets tried their best to get at the German role models, but there’s still a long way to go. Neither the food and drink offered has much to do with German Christmas markets, nor is the mood that festive. Anyone who has ever been to a good German Christmas market knows what we mean. The other way round, it’s the same with Irish pubs in Germany – they make every effort to get close to their big brothers in Ireland, but they simply cannot. But that’s no reason why there should be no Irish pubs in Germany and no German Christmas markets in Ireland. 😉 Nevertheless, it is a nice thing that more and more Christmas markets sprout up in Ireland and embellish the anticipation of Christmas.
Although we don’t think that the biggest Christmas markets are the best ones (on the contrary), we definitely liked the one in Belfast best. It was most able to put us in the Christmas mood and the German mulled wine was very good there. However, the horrendous prices are just like at German Christmas markets, if not worse!
Christmas in Ireland
As we’ve recently learned, Ireland puts forward some unusual Christmas traditions. Probably the craziest and biggest one of them is the annual Christmas swim – on the whole island people have been jumping into the icy ocean for over 40 years on Christmas Day. Logically, this Christmas swim is more likely being celebrated on the coastal regions of the green island.
The next Irish Christmas convention refers to the preferred hot drink. Instead of mulled wine, in Ireland hot apple cider or even more traditional hot whiskey with lemon, cloves and some brown sugar is the hot Christmas drink of choice. Warms from the inside out!
Also at Christmas dinner there’s a very special dish that comes on the Christmas table especially in the Cork region: Spiced beef, which is cooked with sugar, spices and berries. This recipe dates back from the time when it was used to preserve the meat. The tradition has survived to this day and claims its place on Christmas tables throughout Ireland.
For dessert, there’s a classic Christmas pudding, a kind of cake consisting of many different Christmas spices, raisins and other dried berries and soaked in Irish whiskey. It’s best prepared a few weeks before Christmas, so that the flavors unfold. Before serving it’s steamed again for two hours and then poured over with whiskey on the table . The youngest member of the family then has the honor of lighting or flambéing the pudding with a match. Once the flame is off, the pudding is served with freshly whipped cream.
And did you know that the Christmas tree in Ireland is still a relatively new decoration? The houses were usually decorated with holly and ivy. No wonder, these plants grow in Ireland throughout all year, whereas trees are quite rare in many parts of the island (especially in coastal regions) . Nowadays it is common for everyone to hang a Holly wreath on the front door. Tradition has it that the more red berries on the wreath, the more luck you’ll have in the coming year. This year we also inlcuded some holly, in Irish “cuileann” or “cullenagh”, in our Advent decoration. 🙂
The last Irish Christmas tradition is going to take place in the new year, more precisely on the 6th of January. This day is called “Little Christmas” or “Women’s Christmas” in Ireland. On this day, the women must avoid all housework, go out, have fun and spend their Christmas money while the men stay at home taking off all the Christmas decoration. It’s bad luck if you don’t do it!
As for me we could introduce some of these Christmas traditions in Germany, too… 😉
Irish Christmas Cookies
Finally, let’s not withhold our Irish-inspired Christmas cookies. We were only able to bake them thanks to our thoughtful friends, who visited us in the beginning of December. The only thing that’s really Irish about our cookies is the shapes. ^^ Since we had no room to take extra Christmas decorations or cookie cutters to Ireland, our only cookie cutters are now the ones we were given by them – but see for yourself …
If you want to bake our “Shamrock Cookies” you need the following ingredients:
- – Sheep and shamrock cookie cutters or other Irish motifs 😉
- – 500g flour
- – 250g butter
- – 150g sugar
- – 2 eggs
- – 1 sachet of baking powder
- – up to ½ lemon (juice + zest)
Simply stir the soft butter with sugar, eggs and lemon until smooth. Then gradually add flour and baking powder and knead everything to a smooth dough. Let it cool for one hour. Then the dough can be rolled out and the cookies can be cut out on a floured surface . Place the cookies on a baking sheet with baking paper and bake at 180°C for about 10 minutes.
We wish you a lot of fun baking and all of you Nollaig Shona Dhuit, Blythe Yuletide und a happy Christmas!