Did you know that some of our favourite Christmas rituals and traditions have originated from ancient Celtic customs?
The decorating of the Christmas Tree is an old Irish pagan celebration, where decorations symbolised the three deities; the sun, the moon and the stars, and other ornaments were also placed on the tree to represent the souls of those who have died. The burning of the Yule log traditionally happened during the winter solstice, burnt by the Celts to shine a line at the darkest part of the year when they thought that the sun stood still for 12 days.
And in the sprit of Christmas here are a few more festive tales from across the Celtic Routes to delight and inspire.
Nestled in the Tywi Valley, to the northeast of Llandeilo, the Welsh Bethlehem is a quiet and secluded spot, except that is at Christmas time, when thousands of people visit the small village so they can send their Christmas cards stamped with the unique Bethlehem postmark. Bethlehem lost its post office in the 1980s, but since the mid-1960s the tradition of posting Christmas cards from the village had been growing stronger and stronger. As a consequence, the post office was reopened in 2002 – and as someone once said, it might have been a Christmas miracle.
"One Christmas was so much like another, in those years around the sea-town corner now and out of all sound except the distant speaking of the voices I sometimes hear a moment before sleep, that I can never remember whether it snowed for six days and six nights when I was twelve or whether it snowed for twelve days and twelve nights when I was six..."
Written in 1952 a year before his death, Dylan Thomas’ lyrical anecdote of his childhood Christmas spent in a small Welsh town portrays a nostalgic and simpler time. Synonymous with Laugharne, The Dylan Thomas Boathouse is where he would most likely have written this piece of prose.
Plygain, meaning ‘morning light’, was a traditional religious service held in the local Parish Church at 3am every Christmas morning. In Tenby, the young men of the town would escort the Rector with lighted torches from the rectory to St Mary’s Church for Plygain. The service consisted of prayer, praise, thanksgiving, and carols were sung. After the service the torches were re-lit and the congregation escorted the Rector back to his home with the church bell ringing continually until the time of the usual morning service. The rest of the day was devoted to pleasure, games of football were played, and old quarrels ended.
Did you know that the Welsh town of Cardigan was temporarily renamed "Jumper" back in 2016 to coincide with Christmas Jumper Day? Mayor Clive Davies announced the change as Cardigan council joined forces with charity Save The Children to promote the annual tradition of wearing a Christmas Jumper. The town of Jumper only remained until Christmas Day of that year, when it reverted back to the original town name of Cardigan.
Also known as Athgreany, meaning “Field of the Sun”, the Piper's Stones are dedicated to the observation of the sun. Believed to be a megalithic calendar, these stones have been placed in such a way that the sun's shadows align the boulders to the major annual solar events; Winter Solstice, Spring Equinox, Summer Solstice and Autumn Equinox.
The winter solstice marks our longest night of the year. This solar festival offers a time for quiet reflection and the opportunity to shine a light during the darkest part of the year.
The Wexford Carol, which is said to date from the 12th century, is one of the oldest surviving Christmas carols in the European tradition. Originating from Co. Wexford, the carol only existed in the Irish language up until the early 1900s when famous composer, Dr. W.H. Grattan Flood, transcribed the carol from a local singer. It wasn't published until the year of his death in 1928, as No. 14 in the Oxford Book of Carols. Some may now know the carol as the Enniscorthy Carol, as it was recorded under this title by the Choir of Christ Church Cathedral Dublin on a Christmas recording in 1997.
A familiar decoration seen in abundance during the holiday season, but did you know that a number of new hollies were developed in county Wicklow? Edward Hodgins was an internationally famous nurseryman who set up Hodgins Nursey 1794 in Dunganstown. His rare trees, plants and flowers supplied grand botanical gardens and estates, not only in Ireland, but also in England. His work in raising a number of new hollies also garnered him much attention. Edward created three new hollies by crossing the Madeiran holly with holly native to Wicklow to create different types of this special festive plant. His legacy lives on both as a knowledgeable nurseryman and in our Christmas decorations.
The village of Ballyknockan is located on the northwest side of the Wicklow mountains overlooking Blessington Lakes. The village retains an air of ancient remoteness, unique charm, and scenic beauty. And on the outskirts of the village stands the so-called 'House in a Day'.
On Christmas morning of 1887, a local landlord was determined to evict a poor widow and her family from their home. The landlord’s men knocked the roof off her house whilst they were at mass and served them with an immediate eviction notice. At that time, there was a strange law that if a house was built within a day with smoke coming out of the chimney, the occupants couldn’t be evicted, so the neighbours rallied together on Christmas Day to build a house. Once complete the fire was lit, ensuring the poor widow and her family couldn’t be evicted.