Irish Christmas traditions and Christmas foods

by Veronica

If you want some traditional Irish Christmas foods to add to your table this year, read on. Here's a run down of some special Irish Christmas foods.

Christmas in Ireland is celebrated just as much as everywhere else.Traditional Irish Christmas recipes don't come in fancy cook books. In Ireland Christmas is a time to celebrate using cooking recipes handed down through generations.

What traditional Christmas foods are special to Ireland? What might you eat if you were in Ireland at Christmas time?

Christmas turkey
Christmas turkey

One of the great joys of Christmas is treating the family to plenty food and the special food treats made only at this very special time of year. The Irish of course are no exception. We all look forward to the big Christmas feast. An integral part of Irish Christmas traditions is the food. What foods are festive  in Ireland at this time of year? What foods would be prepared for family, visitors and travellers?

Many Irish homes have the same mains as other nations and  Irish Christmas dinners usually include turkey, roast ham, stuffing, cranberry sauce, potatoes, etc. But in many Irish homes you will also find a Christmas Goose.

Roast Turkey did not become the main choice until the 20thC . This was true in England and Ireland

Irish Spiced beef
Irish Spiced beef
google image

Spiced beef


Another traditional Irish Christmas dish is spiced beef. The beef is spiced over a couple of weeks, then cooked and pressed before serving hot or cold.

Spiced Beef

  • 6 cloves
  • 6 blades of mace
  • 2 cloves of crushed garlic
  • 2 oz brown sugar
  •  1 oz saltpetre
  •  1 oz salt
  •  6 lb beef roasting joint, not rolled
  • 3 carrots, halved
  • 3 onions, halved
  •  herbs
  1. Mix all the  spices together.
  2. Place the beef in a large bowl and rub all over with the spice and spice mixture.
  3. Cover and refrigerate.
  4. Rub in the mixture once or twice a day for a week; turn the beef as you repeat the rubbing in process.
  5. The spices will now be mixed with the juices drawn from the beef.
  6. Tie up the meat firmly and place in a large pot with veg .
  7. Rub in a last teaspoon of ground cloves.
  8. Cover with cold water to which a bottle of Guinness has been added.
  9. Simmer gently for 6 hours.
  10. Allow to cool in the cooking liquid.
  11. When cool, remove from the cooking liquid, place on a serving dish and cover with a weighted plate.
  12. Refrigerate until serving time.
  13. Serve cold, thinly sliced.



As everywhere else there are plenty side dishes such as  stuffing, cranberry sauce, and vegetables. But of course, in Ireland, they have various potato dishes roasted, mashed, baked, boiled.

 Traditional Irish Christmas desserts include mince pies, Christmas cakes and Christmas pudding with brandy butter or cream. At Christmas Irish Soda bread is often made with sultanas and dried fruits in it .  

A large red candle is placed in the window as sign that hospitality to Joseph and Mary and other travellers is available. I still have a red candle on Christmas Eve,

This practise is believed to be based on the Northern European tradition of having a candle in the window during the midwinter festival offering food and shelter from the cold.

Fruit soda bread, often eaten on Christmas Eve
Fruit soda bread, often eaten on Christmas Eve

Boiled Goose was always the main Christmas food. By the 19thC  it was roasted, stuffed with onions, bacons and potatoes and apples  and served with a roast ham.

Vegetables would include potatoes, roasted parsnips, carrot and swede mash and  brussels sprouts.

Roast goose for Christmas. Copyright.

Roast Goose

  Wash and dry the goose. Cut away fat.  Pierce the skin all rub it with lemon and salt. Fill the cavity with stuffing.

Place the goose in a roasting tin and roast in a very hot oven 240C, 475F, gas 9, for ten minutes. Reduce the heat to 180C, 350F, Gas 4 and cook for 2-21/2 hours. Pour off the  fat. .


Boiled fruit cake

Boiled fruit cake
Boiled fruit cake

Boiled Ulster Fruit Cake

Boiled Fruit Cake is a  Northern Irish recipe where some of the ingredients are boiled before adding to the mix. This keeps it very moist.

225g / 8oz butter
225g / 8oz demerara sugar
285ml / ½ pint Guiness
330g/ 12 oz mixed dried fruit
450g / 1lb Self Raising  flour
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp nutmeg
3 eggs

Heat a saucepan on a medium flame and add the butter, sugar and stout. Stir gently to melt the butter but do not let it bubble. Add the fruit. Simmer for five minutes and leave to cool. Heat the oven to 180°C / 350F / Gas Mark 4.  Grease a cake tin.  Add the flour and  spices to the cooled liquid mixture and mix.. Pour into cake and bake for two hours. Insert a knife in the centre of the cake and if it is dry when removed, the cake is baked.

Brandy Butter

4 tbsp softened, unsalted butter 
4 ozs of castor sugar 
5 tbsp brandy
1 tsp vanilla extract

Put all the ingredients into a bowl. Beat with an electric beater until the mixture is smooth and well integrated. Refrigerate for at least 4 hours until the mixture is firm.

Irish Christmas Ham

2kg / 4lb 6oz ham joint, boned
1 onion, sliced
2 bay leaves
10 whole black peppercorns
large pan of water

To make the glaze:
3 tbsp. orange marmalade

2  tsp dried chilli flakes


Boil the ham in water and herbs and spices and simmer for one hour thirty minutes

Remove the ham from the pan and leave to cool. Preheat oven to 180°C / 325F / Gas Mark 4. Remove rind from the ham and cover with the mixture of marmalade and chills  With the glazed top upwards, place the ham in a roasting tin and bake for 45 minutes.

a roast ham
a roast ham

Little Christmas


The Holly wreath on doors is believed to have originated in Ireland as Holly was one of the main plants that flourished at Christmas time and the poor could decorate their homes.

All decorations are traditionally taken down on Little Christmas and it is considered to be bad luck to take them down beforehand.
Little Christmas is 6th January ,the 12th night and some parts of Ireland have an afternoon tea of cream scones, jam, fruit cakes and   sponge cakes to show the end of Christmastide.

St Stephen's Day Procession


Wren Boy Procession /  Boxing day

On St. Stephens day there used to be a procession where a pole with a holly bush was carried from house to house remembering when some wrens saved some soldiers from being ambushed. This no longer happens but the tradition of visiting from house to house on St. Stephens Day has survived and is part of an Irish Christmas in some areas.  


Christmas 2016

Whitewashing of the house

Whitewashing of the house

I found this old Irish tradition and it is believed to be one of the oldest. The "whitewashing of the house."

In former times, once the harvest had been gathered in,  the Irish would start their Christmas preparations in November with the  "whitewashing of the house" where they would clean it thoroughly ready for the guests and in honour of the Saviour's birth.  The men would whitewash the outer walls too.

"Mumping day" or "Begging for Christmas Day"

Dec 21st

"Mumping day" or "Begging for Christmas Day"  took place on St Thomas Day December 21st and traditionally men and boys walked round the neighbourhood with blackened faces begging for money .

As they went they sang,

"If you haven't got a penny

A ha'penny ill do

If you haven't got a ha'penny

Well God bless you. "

This rhyme transferred to the North of England over the generations.

Midnight Mass

Nowadays Midnight Mass does not often take place at midnight. My own church will be having a vigil Mass at 7.30pm - not Midnight Mass.

In Ireland,  there are still some Midnight Masses on Christmas Eve / day. Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve is still a popular Irish Christmas tradition. It is also a social occasion and not just celebrated by Catholics but non Catholics too who often attend to sing carols and meet friends.


If you want to see a Christmas Eve or Midnight  Mass in Ireland on December 24th you can do so online at ;- 



Christmas Greeting

The Irish  language greeting for 'Merry Christmas' is Nollaig Shona Duit    (  'null-ig hun-a dit'.  )

Christmas 2020 addition

Women's Day / Women's Christmas

I have found another Irish Christmas tradition.  

In Ireland, Women's Christmas is celebrated on January 6th.Traditionally, Irish women get a day off and the men do the housework. Many women meet  friends and get some time to themselves after all the festivities. 

Sounds good to me. 

Updated: 10/19/2020, Veronica
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Veronica on 10/19/2020

Oct 2020
Time to update my Christmas pages .
I have found anoher Irish Christmas tradition and added it above.

Veronica on 12/24/2019

Here are some lovely Irish Christmas things to try .

Happy Christmas to our wonderful Wizzley Community. YOu are simply the most civilised, respectful, intelligent community on the entire web.
Thanks to you all for a great site.

Veronica on 12/03/2018

Thank you

frankbeswick on 12/03/2018

Nollaig shona Duit [pronounced dvich] is used when you are speaking to one person. When speaking to more than one replace duit with dibh [pronounced dcheev. ]

Veronica on 12/03/2018

I have added the Irish Christmas Greeting above
Nollaig Shona Duit

Veronica on 10/21/2017

I have added a hyperlink above to Christmas Eve / Midnight Masses in Ireland for those who would like to join in from lands afar.

Veronica on 08/01/2017

Exactly.... you've talked yourself in to that one !..... it is because it is a family tradition that we always did these things BECAUSE we come from the Irish tradition. The Irish do these things without thinking "we do this because we're Irish" .

Irish culture and heritage is richly endowed.

frankbeswick on 07/31/2017

I think that in our family the Irish tradition was partly subconscious, a cultural legacy. For example I don't think that we kept up the candle in the window on Christmas Eve because it was an Irish custom, but because we, notably mother and I, liked it and had inherited the practice from previous generations. You are right about the decorations only being put up a few days ere Christmas, but as with the candle, we did this as a cultural heritage, not out of an awareness that it came from Irish cultural tradition.

Veronica on 07/31/2017

Irish traditions are fascinating that's for sure.

Note the addition of dried fruit to the soda bread at Christmas in Ireland

Guest on 07/31/2017

Loved all the recipes and history! Mumping and begging for Christmas Day very interesting.

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