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 an symbol of welcome to Mary and Joseph as they travelled looking
The candle also indicated a safe place for priests to perform mass as,
during Penal Times in Ireland, 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
bearing the 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
of the welcome.
During Penal Times there was once a plot in a village against the local
soldiers. They were surrounded and were about to be ambushed when a group
of wrens pecked on their drums and awakened the soldiers. The plot failed
and the wren became known as 'The Devil's bird'.
On St. Stephens day a procession takes place where a pole with a holly
bush is carried from house to house and families dress up in old clothes
and with blackened faces. In olden times an actual wren would be killed
and placed on top of the pole.
This custom has to a large degree disappeared but the tradition of visiting
from house to house on St. Stephens Day has survived and is very much part
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 (January
6th.) and it is considered to be bad luck to take them down beforehand.