There are a number of Irish Christmas carols, both spiritual and secular, that you can add to your holiday festivities.
Irish Christmas Traditions
The people of Ireland are predominately Catholic, so Christmas is a reverent time filled with symbolism. For Christians, holiday greenery made with holly represents the crown of thorns and the blood of Jesus. Irish people place candles in the window to welcome Mary and Joseph. The classic holiday carol, "The Twelve Days of Christmas", a popular song in Ireland, is quite spiritual. A partridge in a pear tree is Jesus; two turtle doves are the New and Old Testaments; three French hens are faith, hope, and charity; and so on.
In Gaelic, "Nollaig Shona Dhuit" means "Happy Christmas!" In addition to celebrating the reason for the season, the Irish have a fun public holiday on December 26th known as St. Stephen's Day. Family and friends travel door-to-door, performing skits or songs.
Popular Irish Christmas Carols
Some of the most popular Irish Christmas carols enjoyed today actually originated in England and Germany. But here are a few thought to have true Irish roots.
"Wexford Carol" - Believed to have originated in County Wexford in the 12th century. An excerpt:
"With thankful heart and joyful mind,
The shepherds went the babe to find,
And as God's angel had foretold,
They did our savior Christ behold.
Within a manger he was laid,
And by his side the virgin maid,
Attending on the Lord of life,
Who came on earth to end all strife."
"Curoo, Curoo", or "Carol of the Birds" - Thought to date back to the 18th century. An excerpt:
"The lark, the dove, the red bird came,
Curoo, curoo, curoo.
The lark, the dove, the red bird came,
And they did sing in sweet Jesus' name,
On Christmas day in the morning.
Curoo, curoo, curoo,
Curoo, curoo, curoo."
"Bells over Belfast" - A song that helps people forget the notorious "Troubles" of Ireland for at least a day. An excerpt:
"The Antrim hills are dark and still,
And the snow is tum'blin down.
This Christmas time there's hope again,
For all in Belfast town.
With love and understanding,
We'll find a better way.
The gift of peace is ours now,
Upon this Christmas Day."
"Christmas 1915" - Written by Cormac MacConnell, this haunting carol details how troops laid down their guns during World War I on Christmas day. An excerpt:
"Silent night, no cannons roar,
A king is born of peace for evermore.
All's calm, all's bright,
All brothers hand in hand.
And that young soldier sings,
And the song of peace still rings,
Though the captains and all the kings,
Built no man's land.
Sleep in heavenly peace."
"Once in Royal David's City" - Written in 1848 by Cecil Frances Humphreys Alexander, with music composed by Henry John Gantlet. An excerpt:
"Once in royal David's city,
Stood a lowly cattle shed,
Where a mother laid her baby,
In a manger for His bed:
Mary was that mother mild,
Jesus Christ her little child."
Christmas Music CDs
One of the easiest ways to search for CDs of Irish Christmas carols is to use Amazon.co.uk. The site specializes in music from popular Irish artists. Here are just a few options:
- Daniel O'Donnell's O Holy Night: The Christmas Album. This popular Irish country music artist has won numerous awards, and this holiday CD/DVD collection is a classic. Includes versions of "Once In Royal David's City", "Christmas Day 1915", and "In the Bleak Midwinter".
- Amhrain Nollag: Irish Christmas Songs. A truly unique collection, featuring holiday favorites in both Gaelic and English.
- Anúna: Songs for a Celtic Christmas. Anúna, Ireland's national choir, performs an outstanding number of Christmas carols. For a quick listen of their beautiful vocal collaboration, take a look at this clip from the PBS special "Christmas Memories".
More Suggestions for an Irish Christmas
Celebrating the holidays with customs from our ancestors is growing in popularity. Incorporating these traditions is a great way to keep a culture alive and help children understand their background. If you'd like more tips for celebrating an Irish Christmas, consider the following resources:
- Irish Geneology Toolkit: Approximately 11% of Americans claimed Irish ancestry in the 2008 U.S. Census. This site provides helpful information on Christmas traditions, family trees, property, and more.
- Irish Abroad: Through the community pages on this site, you can talk with natives about Irish practices. The site offers helpful information about heritage and music, too.
- Irish Culture and Customs: Everything you could possibly want to know about Irish traditions, food, trivia, and folklore.