In Ireland, Christmas traditionally begins on Christmas Eve and lasts until Jan. 6, the Feast of Epiphany. Many Irish traditions are similar to those celebrated in North America. Kids leave a stocking hanging for Santa, but often will hang it on the footboard of their bed or in their bedroom instead of on the mantle or in the living room. The Gaelic way to say "merry Christmas" is "Nnollaig shona dhuit."
Wren Boys Procession
An ancient tradition for young people in Ireland is the Wren Boys Procession, which is on St. Stephen's Day -- Dec. 26. It's based on a story about a wren leading soldiers to the hiding place of St. Stephen. Dressed in homemade costumes or old clothes, the children go from house to house carrying a long pole with a holly bush or a wren in a box while singing a song or reciting a rhyme about a wren. In times past, a live wren was carried, and then hunted and killed. The kids ask for money for the starving wren.
Advent calendars originated in Europe in the 19th century before spreading to North America. Like kids worldwide, Irish children anticipate opening the windows of their advent calendars to find chocolates, jokes or small toys. Starting on Dec. 1, the calendars are a fun visual way for smaller children to track the days until Santa's visit. Another related Irish tradition that is still practiced in parts of Ireland and Newfoundland is the creation of an advent chain. Each day in December, the child adds a paper loop to her paper chain. On Christmas Eve, the chain goes on the tree. A twist on the advent chain is to do it in reverse. Start with a chain 24 links long with a bell on the last link. Remove a link each day until the bell is left on Christmas Eve. Your child can ring the bell as an official start to Christmas.
Pantomime plays are traditionally performed on Dec. 26. The plays are usually traditional fairy tales, such as Cinderella, Puss in Boots or Sleeping Beauty. Often there's a twist, such as men playing the female roles and vise versa. Offer your kids a memorable day by taking them to a pantomime play that shows them a traditional tale in a new light. Better yet, help your kids put on their own play, preparing costumes and a rough script in the weeks leading up to Christmas.
Playing with Crackers and Bangers
Christmas isn't complete without the traditional gifts of crackers and bangers. Crackers are brightly-wrapped tubes filled with small gifts, jokes, a party hat and a banger. Crackers can come as a part of a child's Christmas loot or magically appear on the dinner table on Christmas day. Siblings often have fun pulling the cracker between them, almost like a chicken wishbone, to try and pull a longer piece. A banger is a chemically-treated strip that makes a loud bang when it's pulled. It's not uncommon to open the crackers and bangers at Christmas dinner, although you might want to encourage your kids to run some energy out by chasing each other around with their bangers.