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Life in Ireland

Developing our own Christmas traditions in Ireland

Edit: I’ve imported this into my new personal blog from a backup, and the backup wasn’t the newest version, so please excuse me if you left a comment on this post and it isn’t here.

Hi everyone! It’s Friday, we’re getting closer to Christmas, and I’ve decided to join a fun challenge that the lovely Aussie blogger Debbie is doing today. It’s all about the festive season and traditions. I’ve always loved Christmas, it’s such a cosy time of the year. Sadly, when I worked as a nurse I fell out of love with it because it was such an appointment never knowing if I would have to work or not, and even if I had to work only one of the days, I still wouldn’t have enough days off to go and see my family, since I lived quite far away from them. Everything about Christmas became stressful and sad because I wasn’t able to celebrate Christmas as I wanted to, and after a while, I stopped caring about it.

Now I’ve left nursing behind, started creating a new, more flexible, career and I’m doing my best to find joy in Christmas again. The first year we lived in Ireland, we decided to stay here for Christmas. Sweden is lovely but definitely NOT in the winter if you are like me, and we prefer to visit in the summer or autumn. We also wanted to start creating our own Christmas traditions. It became a strange, but still very nice and relaxing Christmas. Shortly after, the pandemic came and we haven’t been able to see our families since. But we’re thankful for technology that allows us to at least see them through a screen! We’ve had chats over coffee and also whisky tastings over the internet. I would LOVE to see our families asap, but I’m in love with Zoom, Signal and whatnot for the possibilities it gives us to stay connected.

So how did our own Christmas traditions turn out? Continue reading to learn everything about it.

Christmas decorations
My wonderful gnome family that my mother made

Christmas Tree – do you have one, when does it go up, who decorates it, is there a theme or is it mismatched?

Most years, we’ve had at least a small tree. When we didn’t, we decorated our guitar stand (one for multiple guitars) with lights and Christmas tree decorations. I wish I had a photo to share!
The first year in Ireland we bought a small tree at Supervalu. Last year we didn’t have one but this year I really wanted a tree, so now we actually have two! We normally get it closer to Christmas but decided to set it up early because it brings some extra cosiness to the house. Our tree decor is quite minimalistic – only lights and those red bubbles (are they called that in English??).

Christmas tree 2021
The 2021 Christmas tree

Christmas carols – yes or no, faves? Traditional or modern?

Oh yes, please! I LOVE Christmas songs. For a long time, it was mainly hymns and other Christian Christmas songs, but later when technology allowed us to discover more music than what you could find locally on CD, I started exploring the world of country and bluegrass Christmas recordings and I have lots of favourites there!

There is a problem though. You all know that we love bluegrass, and there are so many wonderful Christmas-themed bluegrass songs. But many have the “Christmas time back home” theme, and they make me extremely sad during this time when it’s so uncertain when we can get “home” for Christmas again. I want Christmas to be a happy time despite circumstances, so I now focus on the songs that truly make me happy and cheerful. Most of these are from the world of country music. Some of my favourite Christmas recordings – hymns and not – are those by Martina McBride, Patty Loveless and Suzy Bogguss.

Here are my top favourites – the first one is, in my opinion, the best Christmas song ever written, and performed by one of the best voices in existence.

When I listen to these, I feel the scent of Christmas ginger biscuits! I keep these records running on a playlist every time I bake them.

The last one is a song that I previously never considered a Christmas song. It was recorded in December 1987, and quickly became regarded as “the sound of Christmas” here in Ireland. My husband introduced me to it, and after hearing it for years during the Christmas period, now it gives me Christmas feelings very strongly too (in fact, I’m getting VERY emotional when I listen to it now). There’s a lot of controversy around this song because of the language used in it – you can read more about it here. But ignore the choice of language for a bit and listen to it – it’s a lovely song and it’s special, although I wouldn’t say Shane McGowan from the Pogues is my favourite singer.

Christmas books – any faves you want to tell us about?

I have absolutely no tradition of reading particular books over Christmas – except those people gave me as Christmas gifts. Maybe the closest I get is everything by Camilla Läckberg because my mother used to give me her latest book every Christmas.

Christmas movies – any you watch year after year?

We love Christmas movies! The cheesier, the better! We usually start seeing them after the first Sunday of Advent, and explore what they offer on Netflix. On the 23rd, we watch “Nightmare before Christmas” by Tim Burton, not particularly cheerful but it’s fascinating and gives the Christmas feeling. One tradition we’ve had since we moved here, is to see those “big” movie series over Christmas and New Year. So very likely, this year again we’ll see the whole Star Wars series, Harry Potter and similar, as well as certain fantasy movies such as Neverending story.

Christmas cake – yes or no?

We try to embrace what Irish Christmas traditions have to offer, although we have lots to learn. Christmas cake isn’t a big thing for us, but we love mince pies! However, if you shop at Supervalu around Christmas, they give you a Christmas cake for free. Isn’t that lovely? Sadly I can’t eat it since I’m coeliac, so my husband still had Christmas cake left in the freezer in the summer. 😂 Mince pies are a must, and we’ve also tried Christmas pudding, which is lovely when served as it’s supposed to, hot with cream and possibly brandy sauce (in our case, whisky sauce perhaps). It’s VERY rich though and you can only eat very little of it, so this year we’ll try to find a small bit of gluten-free Christmas pudding so that we can share it.

Chocolate – nuts or fruit?

Absolutely with nuts! But we usually buy a box of Cadbury Roses chocolates, if we get chocolate at all. We mostly make our own Christmas sweets, and this year I plan to make some nice fudge.

Christmas traditions?

The first year we sort of tested the waters when it comes to developing our own Christmas traditions. We had a really good time! Swedish people celebrate Christmas mainly on Christmas Eve, so we started preparing on the 23rd, making the knäck (a special toffee), ham, meatballs and more. In 2019 we didn’t yet have an oven – so we made the Christmas ham in the barbecue, and I also made a gluten-free ginger spongecake in it! I’m still fascinated by how well that worked.

We had Christmas lunch with some typical Swedish foods, enjoyed some glögg, played tunes, and later went to town to join the Christmas music session in the pub. Such happy days when you could do things like that! We took a walk in town afterwards and had a drink at DeBarra’s.

Last year obviously was different but we had a good Christmas. We were more used to not being with our families over Christmas, so it wasn’t that strange anymore. The cooking and preparing were the same but with an oven this time. While we waited for the food to be ready, had the fire on in the kitchen stove and played some tunes. Whether pubs can be open or not – we will still play music! We had a chat with my family in Sweden using Facebook Messenger with video, and later also with my husband’s family.

After dinner, we sat down to enjoy a rather premium whiskey, a 25-year-old Bushmills that was released earlier that year as a part of their Causeway collection series. I had bought a bottle of the 12-year-old that was released at the same time, but the price of the 25-year-old was… let’s just say, nothing like what I’m ready to spend on a whiskey (and my bar is quite high compared to most people, so imagine!). But I had been able to get a sample set so that we could at least taste it. The funny thing is that I didn’t even like it!

2020 was a very strange year and we needed some light-hearted and nice movies to see and decided on the classic Swedish comedy film series Sällskapsresan. An absolutely fabulous choice!

I think that our own tradition is quite established. Cooking together, making sweets, having a lovely Christmas dinner, playing music, having a drop of a special whiskey and watching films. This is the pandemic-style Christmas. I’d love to include more social activities in our Christmas celebrations in the future!

What’s on the table?

We love our Swedish Christmas food, and even if we’ve planned to make turkey à la Irish traditions on Christmas day, it hasn’t happened yet. Maybe this year, if we’re clever enough to not make too much of the other dishes.

We don’t have a huge Christmas buffet but make our favourites – a special Christmas ham baked in the oven with (gluten-free) breadcrumbs and mustard (this is the only way I can eat mustard), meatballs with allspice, Janssons frestelse which is a sort of potato gratin with anchovies and cream, and this year I’ll try to add something nice with fresh vegetables. Julmust is a special soft drink that has a secret recipe (or so they say), it’s based on malt extract and is very sweet. I don’t know how I could explain it to someone who hasn’t tasted it! But it is a part of most Swedish people’s Christmas dinners. I can’t handle too sweet drinks anymore, and nowadays I prefer red wine or a gluten-free ale from 9 White Deer brewery near Macroom.

Christmas memories?

I have many lovely Christmas memories. From my youth, celebrating with my family, but also from the year I worked as an au-pair in Italy and stayed there for Christmas. I was invited to celebrate Christmas with a family I knew from church (the same people who invited me to a Scandinavian advent party), and they had also invited the church organ player who was American. We had a great time! We had dinner for 4 hours. Remember, this is Italy we’re talking about! Lots of different dishes, drinks, desserts. Afterwards, we played games and sang Christmas songs together. They even had a Christmas gift for me, so thoughtful of them!

All I want for Christmas is…

  • I want us, and our friends and families to remain healthy and that we can see them soon again.
  • I want Covid to disappear or become harmless like a seasonal flu or cold.
  • I want us to continue to enjoy our new Christmas traditions and have a good and cheerful time also this year.

So how do we like Christmas in Ireland? It’s very mixed. Christmas is so bound to tradition, and culture. To me, certain elements have to be there for me to get the Christmas feeling – it’s a lot about food, scents, visual elements. Our traditional decor, the smell of glögg and ginger biscuits, hyacinths. But Ireland isn’t particularly different to Sweden when it comes to spices and decorations – some of it just comes in different forms. I love the Christmas period here, there’s a lovely atmosphere in town and normally lots of nice events happening. We have brought our most important Christmas traditions to Ireland, and hope to mix in more of the Irish festivities when we can be out and about more. In the future, it would be truly lovely to see friends during the Christmas period, have a drink, play music, have dinner together.

It was a very emotional journey to write this post! But I’m glad I did it, and I’m looking forward to reading everyone else’s post!

Linking with Debbie’s #festivebonbons, and Natalie’s weekend coffee share.

24 Comments

  • Donna Connolly
    10th December 2021 at 6:50 pm

    Thank you for joining us at Festive Bonbon and sharing your Christmas traditions. I love that you once decorated your multiple guitar stand in lieu of a Christmas tree. That’s an inspired and creative idea.
    Speaking of inspired, your Christmas food photos look scrumptious (she writes as she gets up and now searches for lunch). They’ve definitely made me hungry! 😀

    Reply
    • Susanne
      10th December 2021 at 7:18 pm

      Hi Donna, nice to have you here! Yes, I absolutely loved the idea with the guitar stand and I’ll try to remember doing it again if we don’t find a real tree. 😃

      Reply
  • Lydia C. Lee
    10th December 2021 at 8:06 pm

    I just wrote a comment. Not sure what happens. You’velovely photos even if it doesn’t feel like true xmas to you. #Festive Bonbons

    Reply
    • Susanne
      10th December 2021 at 9:30 pm

      Aw thanks Lydia – and it certainly is like true Christmas, just different from what I’m used to. But we’ll have to embrace the change, go with the flow, and enjoy what we have.

      Reply
  • Joanne Tracey
    10th December 2021 at 11:40 pm

    Thank you so much for linking up. I loved reading about your Christmas traditions and (as an aside,I adore that massive copper beside your Christmas tree) foods. Yours is the 3rd time I’ve come across Janssons frestelse in the last couple of days & I’ve been madly googling recipes ever since. Thanks for helping us spread the Christmas joy.

    Reply
    • Susanne
      11th December 2021 at 9:50 am

      Hi Joanne! That copper container is so beautiful, it comes from my husband’s grandmother. It’s a flower container but I haven’t found anything good to plant in it yet. How fascinating that you’ve come across Janssons frestelse so much! It’s easy to make. Slice potatoes of the waxy type (in small chunks), put them in a casserole dish. Mix in the contents of one tin (depends on how large those tins are where you are!) of anchovies. You usually don’t need much additional salt, if any. Cover to maybe 3/4 with cream. Pour some breadcrumbs on top. Put into the oven at 200C. Enjoy!

      Reply
  • Natalie
    11th December 2021 at 1:05 am

    Thank you Susanne for sharing your Christmas traditions with us at #Weekendcoffeeshare. I adore your mom’s handmade gnomes, your simple tree with lights and red baubles and the copper pot. Your foods look delicious. Have a great weekend!

    Reply
    • Susanne
      11th December 2021 at 10:00 am

      Oh, thank you for giving me the word baubles! I knew I had heard it. Interesting that when I did a search, the search engines gave me bubbles everywhere! I expected it to show me both. Oh well, now I know! I wish you a lovely weekend too.

      Reply
  • Gary A Wilson
    11th December 2021 at 3:44 am

    Hi Susanne,
    I think I understand what you’re saying about getting to not caring about Christmas because of the demands of being a nurse. I have a lot of friends and family who are nurses and yes, it’s hard and often too wrapped up with battles between nurses, their unions and hospitals. It all seems rather toxic to me but then, with the exception of elective procedures, people can’t schedule their medical emergencies, but on the other hand, we all do this every year and am I supposed to believe management can’t somehow plan for the 3 weeks that contain Christmas? This really should not be so hard. Many industries face Christmas each year too and they manage to plan for coverage without blowing up everyone’s holiday each year.

    Okay, about those bubbles on your guitar stand (man! that alone was funny) here we call them bulbs, but I laughed at “bubbles” so I may try to start a new tradition here that involve hanging the bubbles on the Christmas tree or our son’s guitar stand.

    Thanks for a great Christmas coffee share.

    Reply
    • Susanne
      11th December 2021 at 10:13 am

      I knew they weren’t called bubbles, but couldn’t find the word! So I did a search, expecting to get the right word because I knew it was similar to bubbles. But all I got was bubbles! I did see bulbs too but mostly for the lights. Now Natalie reminded me that it’s baubles.

      Yes, the guitar stand as Christmas tree was fabulous! I’ll do it again every time we can’t find a tree. The situation with nursing and Christmas is complex. There are so many wards that can close for Christmas, and I’ve always worked in those. We had a schedule for who would work what year, and I think we worked every third Christmas, but the problem for me was that even if I was off Christmas Eve and Christmas Day but had to work on the 23rd for example, it didn’t help because I needed more days off to travel to my parents, which took 6-8 hours. Of course I was aware of it when I chose to become a nurse, but I didn’t realise how much it would affect me emotionally when it comes to Christmas and other events. I ended up feeling I was standing outside, watching everyone else live their lives, while all I did was work. This is one of the big reasons why I eventually left the profession – the other big one was the poor management of all healthcare systems out there, I felt I was working on a sinking ship and nothing with nursing inspired me anymore. Now there’s a lot more to it especially with the arrival of Covid.

      Thanks for visiting and have a lovely weekend!

      Reply
  • Sue from Women Living Well After 50
    11th December 2021 at 6:46 am

    Hi Susanne, Thanks for joining our Festive Bon Bons Link Up and I just adore your Gnome family made by your Mum. I’m really enjoying reading everyone’s answers to the questions and learning how others celebrate the Festive Season. xx

    Reply
    • Susanne
      11th December 2021 at 10:14 am

      Hi Sue! I absolutely love the gnome family too! They’re my faves of everything she’s made so far!

      Reply
  • Maria
    11th December 2021 at 3:31 pm

    I love reading about your Christmas traditions. I hope you get to enjoy a healthy, happy and magical Christmas 2021 <3

    Reply
    • Susanne
      12th December 2021 at 2:24 pm

      Thanks Maria, i wish you the same!

      Reply
  • Barbara
    11th December 2021 at 9:52 pm

    God Jul! We’ll be doing a Swedish table down here in New Zealand on Christmas Eve. We just managed to get some herring – a shipment just arrived with just a few jars to our Swedish shop. There’ll be meatballs, ham, sausages and of course Janssons Frestelse, made with the proper ansjovis. It is really important to tell non-Swedes not to use salty anchovies, as they are just not the same. Of course, it is summer for us here too, so we can make the most of strawberries, raspberries and other summer fruits.

    Reply
    • Susanne
      12th December 2021 at 2:27 pm

      We always use salty anchovies! They come in tins like that. I don’t think I’ve even seen unsalted anchovies. Anyway, ours with salted anchovies is very nice. It certainly sounds you’ll have a true Swedish Christmas – your husband must appreciate that. How nice to be able to mix Swedish Christmas foods with fresh summer treats!

      Reply
  • Joanne
    12th December 2021 at 12:55 pm

    I loved reading about your traditions and how you have adapted them from year to year. Your food sounds delicious and I hope you’ll get to go “home” and visit with family real soon.

    Reply
    • Susanne
      12th December 2021 at 2:28 pm

      Thanks, Joanne! I really hope so too.

      Reply
  • Debbie Harris
    12th December 2021 at 11:44 pm

    Hi Susanne, my apologies for being late to comment on your lovely post but I’ve been busy with birthday celebrations all weekend (mine!) and can only now sit and draw breath for the first time in a while!
    First up thanks for joining in with our Festive Bonbons linkup, it’s been so much fun reading everyone’s posts and seeing how similar/different we all are. We are also using Zoom and other video chat services to stay in touch with family due to Covid but hopefully we will have some family together at Christmas. Secondly I LOVE your gnome family!
    Wishing you well, stay warm and enjoy all that lovely food. God Jul!

    Reply
    • Susanne
      13th December 2021 at 9:54 am

      Aw, don’t worry, it’s always good to see you here! I agree that it’s been a lot of fun reading everyone’s posts!
      It’s nice to hear how everyone likes my mother’s gnome family, and I love it too – perhaps I should take it down from the high shelf and keep it somewhere more visible. My mother is a very good crocheter (is that a word?) and I have plenty of different amigurumi-type of things she’s made.
      Stay well, and enjoy the rest of the festive season!

      Reply
  • Janet Alcorn
    13th December 2021 at 2:09 am

    Thanks for sharing the link to Martina McBride’s version of, “O Holy Night.” It’s my favorite Christmas song too, but I hadn’t heard her version before. It’s lovely, though I think my favorite is still the one by Celtic Woman.

    Reply
    • Susanne
      13th December 2021 at 9:56 am

      Hi Janet! Celtic Woman has done a lot of very good recordings, I’ve listened to some of them on YouTube. My favourite is still that by Martina McBride!

      Reply
  • Leanne | www.crestingthehill.com.au
    13th December 2021 at 9:23 am

    Hi Susanne – it was interesting reading how you’re combining your family traditions – keeping some of the old and blending them with your new country’s favourites. I listened to Fairytale of New York and realized I knew the song well but had never known who sang it or what it was called. And I must say that Shane McGowan is not a very attractive gentleman at all – I think I prefer to listen rather than watch him!

    Reply
    • Susanne
      13th December 2021 at 10:15 am

      Hi Leanne! I’m glad you found it interesting! We probably will continue to develop our traditions, and blend in more Irish ones as time goes by. And, I do agree with you about Shane! Have a lovely week.

      Reply

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