| Dec 17, 2009

Back to HomeChristmas Edition - December 17, 2009Christmas 2009

Art Contest

A Christmas Messageby Debbie Pelley-Hudson

Christmas Traditions in Ireland

Country Christmasby Kelly Calthorpe

Early Literacy: Opening More than Presents

Local Music to Stuff Your Stockings with


The Brightest Star

The Christmas Quiltby Kelly Calthorpe

The Christmas Giftby Pastor Ken Walton

Christmas Traditions in Ireland

Christmas Traditions in Ireland

How the Irish cook their Goose

Irish Trifle

Christmas traditions in Ireland

Legend has it that King Henry II of England brought Christmas to Ireland in 1171. He built a very big traditional Irish Hall in a village called Hogges, where sumptuous feasts and Christmas plays were put on for the Irish chiefs who were loyal to the British Crown.

As Christmas developed in rural Ireland, it merged with existing traditions.

One of them was the lighting of a candle in the window of every home on Christmas Eve, which has a cultural echo in the Christmas lights that are common around the world.

In the Irish tradition the youngest member of the household lit the candle. The candle symbolized that strangers were welcome in the home if they needed shelter, a reference to Mary and Joseph in Bethlehem.

In Irish lore, the candle must be extinguished by a girl named “Mary”, which was probably less of a problem in the past than it might be today.

Another custom was the laden table. A special loaf of Irish soda bread filled with caraway seeds and raisins, along with a pitcher of milk, was left on the table at Christmas Eve. (In some quarters, Guinness beer is substituted for the milk)

Among Christmas dinner traditions are goose and Christmas cake or Christmas pudding.


The use of holly in Christmas decorations has always been common in Ireland, and is something that has been exported around the northern hemisphere.

After Christmas, the feast of St. Stephen on December 26 was celebrated in Ireland. St. Stephen is considered the first of the Christian martyrs, having been stoned to death shortly after the crucifixion.

In Ireland the feast of St. Stephen changed over the centuries into a rather odd ritual, Wren Day.

Some stories say that a wren betrayed some Irish soldiers as they approached a Viking camp in the 7th century. For whatever reason, a group of Irish boys would set out to chase a wren, and chase it until they caught it or it died from exhaustion.

The dead wren was tied to the top of a pole or a holly bush, and carried from house to house on St. Stephen’s morning by the boys, who would wear straw hats and blacken their faces with burnt cork and wear old clothes or women’s dresses.

They would sing the wren song, and collect money for their trouble.

A verson of the song is reprinted below

THE WREN SONGThe wren, the wren, the king of all birdsSt. Stephen's Day was caught in the firsAlthough he was little, his honor was greatJump up, me lads and give us a treatWe followed the wren three miles or moreThree miles or more, three miles or moreThrough hedges and ditches and heaps of snowAt six o'clock in the morning.Rolley, Rolley, where is your nest?It's in the bush that I love bestIt's in the bush, the holly treeWhere all the boys do follow me.As I went out to hunt and allI met a wren upon the wallUp with me wattle and gave him a fallAnd brought him here to show you all.I have a little box under me armA tuppence or penny will do it no harmFor we are the boys who came your wayTo bring in the wren on St. Stephen's Day

The Wren day tradition eventually died off, but it has been reborn in recent years (not generally with a real wren, but with an artificial one). Boys and girls partake nowadays, and the money that is collected is generally put to charitable use.

The Gaelic greeting for “Merry Christmas” is: 'Nollaig Shona Duit'... which is pronounced as 'null-ig hun-a dit'.

How the Irish cook their goose

The tradition of the Christmas goose might bring memories of too much grease to some readers, but this recipe contains a few tricks to bring about the savoury flavour without weighing anyone down. The goose is simmered for two hours before roasting, and the fat is poured off two or three times during roasting. The stuffing is potato-based, of course, with apples providing tartness and sweetness.

Ingredients:1 goose weighing about 10lb. with giblets, neck, heart and gizzard. Allow 1lb. uncooked weight per person.

1 small onion

1 carrot

Bouquet garni consisting of 1 sprig of thyme, 3 or 4 parsley stalks, a small piece of celery and 6 or 7 peppercorns

Roux, if desired, for thickening

Stuffing:2 lb. potatoes

1/2 stick butter

1 lb onions

1 lb Granny Smith cooking apples, peeled and chopped1 Tbsp chopped parsley

1 1/2 Tbsp lemon balm

salt and freshly ground pepper

Scrub potatoes and boil in salt water until cooked. Drain water and mash potatoes, including skins. Melt butter and simmer onions in covered saucepan over gentle heat for five minutes. Add apples and cook until they break down into a fluff then stir in the mashed potatoes and herbs. Season with salt and pepper. Allow to get quite cold before stuffing goose.

Goose:Remove giblets, neck, heart and gizzard from goose cavity. Put goose into large saucepan with giblets, onion, carrot, bouquet garni and peppercorns. Cover with cold water, bring to a boil and simmer for about two hours. Remove bird from stock, pat dry and place in roasting pan. Strain stock and store in refrigerator until it's time to make the gravy. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Season goose cavity with salt and pepper and fill with cold stuffing. Sprinkle sea-salt over breast and rub into skin. Roast for 2 to 2½ hours. During roasting, pour off excess fat three or four times. To test whether goose is cooked, prick the thigh at thickest part. If the juices that run out are clear, it's ready. If they're pink, it needs a little longer. When bird is cooked, remove to a large oven-proof platter and place in oven on low heat to keep warm while you make the gravy.

Gravy: Pour or spoon off remaining fat in pan. Add about two cups of strained giblet stock to roasting pan. Bring to a boil, and, using a small whisk, scrape the pan well to dissolve any meaty deposits. Taste for seasoning and if desired, thicken with a little roux. If the gravy seems weak, boil for a few minutes to concentrate the flavour. If it seems too strong, add a little more water or stock.

IRISH TRIFLE: a trifle that won’t stick to the roof of your mouth.

This recipe for Irish trifle is somewhat different from the more common English variety, using raspberry preserves instead of jam and a hit of Irish whiskey in place of sherry. Making trifle can be a long process, or a very short one, depending on whether store-bought sponge cake and custard are used, or the home made variety. The custard is rather easy to make, but needs time to cool. Sponge cake is more involved, and also needs time to cool, but neither is terribly difficult. I’ve included the recipes for both, along with the assembly instructions. The assembly here is for single serving trifles, but a large punch bowl, preferably glass, is a good option for larger crowds.

Custard:1/2 cups whole milk

1 vanilla pod or a few drops of pure vanilla extract3 eggs

2 tablespoons sugar

Sponge Cake:

3 large eggs

1/2 tsp. lemon flavoring

1/3 cup hot water

3/4 cup sugar

1/2 tsp salt

1 tsp. vanilla extract

1 1/2 tsp. double acting baking powder

1 1/4 cup white cake flour

Additional Ingredients:

1 8-oz jar All-Fruit Raspberry Preserves

1/4 to 1/2 cup Irish whiskey

1 small container of fresh raspberries (or frozen - thawed and drained)

1 16-oz can of apricots in fruit juice, drained

1 cup heavy (whipping) cream

Blanched almonds, fresh raspberries and slices of kiwi fruit to decorate.

Method: Make the sponge on the day before you plan to serve the trifle. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour 8x8 inch pan. Blend flour, baking powder and salt, set aside. Beat eggs with electric mixer in small bowl until very thick and lemon coloured; pour into large bowl. Gradually beat in sugar. Slowly blend in water, vanilla, and lemon flavouring on low speed. Quickly blend in dry ingredients; mix thoroughly. Pour into prepared pan and put in oven immediately. Bake 25 to 30 minutes until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.

Make the custard. Pour the milk into a pan and bring it almost to a boil. Remove from the heat. Whisk the eggs and sugar together lightly in a bowl. Gradually whisk the milk into the egg mixture. Rinse out the pan with cold water, return to mixture to it and stir over very low heat until the mixture thickens. Do not allow it to boil. Turn the custard into a bowl and add vanilla extract to taste. Set aside to cool, stirring occasionally to prevent a skin forming.Assembling the trifle: Halve the sponge cake horizontally. Spread with raspberry preserves and make a sandwich. Cut into slices and arrange them on the bottom and around the sides of a large glass dessert bowl. Sprinkle generously with Irish whiskey. Cut the apricots into quarters and mix lightly with the raspberries. (Reserve a handful of raspberries for decorating the top). Spread the fruit over the sponge cake to make as even a layer as possible. Pour on the custard, cover and then chill.Right before serving, whip the cream, spread it over the custard layer and then decorate with blanched almonds, the reserved fresh raspberries and slices of kiwi fruit.

ALTERNATE VERSION (less work, more shopping)

Prepare all ingredients and assemble in layers.

1 or 2 Angel Food cakes (store bought or home made)

2 pkgs. Frozen raspberries in syrup

2 ripe mangos

1 pineapple (or 1 can pineapples)

2 small cans mandarin oranges (reserve liquid)

2 cans prepared custard (or 1 recipe custard – see above)

1 litre whipping cream

Irish whiskey or German brandy (optional and to taste)

Prepare all fruit, cutting into small chunks, and half defrost frozen raspberries in a bowl so they can be chopped into pieces. Whip cream.

Break cake in pieces and drop into punch bowl. (If using spirits douse very lightly. If you want it stronger, have a glass with the trifle)

Spoon in layer of custard. Toss in layer of fruit (mango, raspberries, pineapple and mandarins). Spoon on a thin layer of whipping cream. Repeat two more times. Keep back enough whipping cream to completely cover the top layer of fruit, and arrange fresh raspberries or strawberries on top. (If you are not serving any other chocolate for dessert, you can shave or grate some chocolate over top.)

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