Imagine the preparations, decorations and activities for Christmas lasting from whitewashing the house in October through Twelfth Night on January 6. It would be enough to make a parent forgo the holiday altogether. Luckily for Irish parents, this traditional calendar rarely exists in modern times in its entirety. However, Irish children do still have an array of activities and games over an extended Christmas season.
Advent Calendars and Christmas Decorations
As if children need to have their anticipation for Christmas built up any higher, Advent season for Irish children begins four Sundays before Christmas. At that time, children begin opening Advent calendars to mark down the days before Christmas, with each day revealing a small toy or piece of candy. Traditional holly boughs and wreaths fill Irish homes, but younger children decorate with more contemporary and less prickly ornaments such as those used in the U.S.
Christmas Eve Activities
A little bit of fire seems just the thing for Christmas Eve. On that night, the “Candle in the Window” tradition commemorates Mary and Joseph's search for shelter. Instead of setting out treats for Santa, Irish children set out bread and milk as a welcoming symbol for Mary and Joseph and give the honor of lighting a traditional Christmas candle to the youngest member of the family. Irish parents ensure that the children sleep soundly by keeping them up for midnight Mass on Christmas Eve.
After opening presents that Santy, known as Santa in the U.S., has left at the foot of their beds, Irish children might play traditional games, such "The Letter," an Irish version of "Duck, Duck Goose." In this game, one child walks around others sitting in a circle with their eyes closed. After singing an Irish verse, the children look behind them to see who has a letter dropped by the walking child. The sitting child jumps up to chase the other child before one of them returns to the vacant spot in the circle.
The Twelve Days of Christmas
The fun keeps on coming after Christmas itself, with the twelve days after the holiday until January 6, Twelfth Night, when the Magi were said to have arrived in Bethlehem. During this time, families attend plays, watch horse racing or visit each other, providing children with opportunities to play large games such as "Mr. Fox." The game begins with one child, Mr. Fox, with his back turned to a line of children about 10 feet away. The children repeatedly ask the time, while slowly sneaking up to tag Mr. Fox, who responds with 1:00, 2:00, and so on. When Mr. Fox says "Dinner Time" and turns to chase the others, the children all run back to the wall before Mr. Fox has a chance to tag them.