Christmas traditions the Irish living in the U.S. will miss

TransferWise content team
3 minute read

Come late-November and Ireland becomes a land of frosty temperatures and festive displays of holiday spirit, not to mention a lot of half-off sales.

Christmas in Ireland doesn’t hold too many contrasts from that in the United States and the U.K, however there are many subtle differences.

From a day designed to honor women with inventive Christmas cakes and a wee touch of whiskey, here are five of the things Irish migrants told TransferWise they miss when spending the holidays in the U.S.

A Long Christmas


For Irish Catholics, Christmas stretches from the evening of December 24th until January 6th, also known by some as ‘Little Christmas’.

An old tradition Christmas Eve is to put a tall candle on the largest window sill after sunset, letting it burn all night long.

The purpose is primarily to welcome Mary and Joseph, but there used to be a more practical reason too: a safe place for priests to perform mass, as it was forbidden during the time in which Ireland’s Penal Laws were enforced.

Women’s Christmas

Falling on the Feast of the Epiphany on January 6th, the day marks when men take over the household duties for the day and women go out or hold parties with their fellow female friends and relatives.

As part of the tradition, still going strong in Cork and Kerry, most bars and restaurants serve only their female clientele. Children also give gifts to their mothers and grandmothers.

St. Stephen’s Day

While many Americans are heading back to work on the day after Christmas, the Irish are taking a second day off.

Similar to Boxing Day in the U.K., St. Stephen’s Day is traditionally when horse races and football matches take place. But the Irish have a long-standing custom of their own: the Wren Boys Procession. Young people dress up in homemade costumes, heading from home to home to sing a carol about the wren bird.

Luckily the tradition’s namesake, a wren bird, is no longer sanctimoniously slaughtered and hoisted around in a holly bush.

The Christmas Cake


Like their British neighbors: the Irish often indulge on a glorified fruit cake coated with marzipan or almond icing with an added Irish touch of whiskey.

Traditionally, the Irish enjoy a Christmas cake made of raisins, currants, wine and spice and fomented in the fridge for upwards of a year.

An older custom is the caraway seed cake: one of these goodies was traditionally baked for each person in the house.


Living far away from their homeland, Irish migrants tell us that their family across the pond is the number one thing they miss over the holidays (and often in general).

Each family, after all, has their own unique traditions and customs, even when many new ones are created abroad.

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