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My Favorite Irish Traditions: From St. Brigid's Day to Pancake Tuesday

Posted by Kirsten Fedorowicz on

The Tradition of the Irish Wake

In every culture, funeral rites are slightly different. In Ireland, the passing of a person is a time for both mourning and celebration of that person’s life. When a person died, the community would stage a “wake,” where family and friends would gather around the casket of the deceased for two or three days, never leaving the body until the burial.

Wakes consisted of deep mourning, with a certain woman assigned to be the head mourner, leading groups of women in wailing and crying. However, there would also be a lot of joy at the ceremonies. The Irish folks would tell stories about the deceased, and even play games known as “wake games.” These simple games kept guests entertained, but also offered a joyous exit from this world for the deceased.

Central to the ceremony was tobacco. A pipe would be placed in the room for each male guest to smoke as part of their respects. When the wake was over, the pipe would be buried with the deceased. It was thought that the smoke from the pipe would keep away bad spirits. 

This pipe is a faithful reproduction of one of the pipes used a wake ceremony. It will add a special touch of Irish heritage to your home! However, you cannot smoke anything out of this pipe.

The Festival of St. Brigid

The festival of St. Brigid is held on February 1st, and is also known as Imbolc. The festival marks the beginning of Spring, and is a day for celebration and feasting.

A uniquely Irish day, Imbolc is a ancient holiday that has roots in pagan times as a celebration of the Celtic Goddess Brid. Brid, a beloved goddess of the spring and new growth, had bonfires lit on this day and many celebrations had in her name. Later, February 1st became celebrated for a woman who was born on February 1st and was named after the Celtic goddess: the second patron saint of Ireland, St. Brigid. St. Brigid, besides being a patron of Ireland, is a patron of crafts and poetry.

On February 1st, children weave St. Brigid’s crosses from rushes that grow along the marshes and rivers of Ireland. Thought to protects from evil and fire, these crosses were traditionally kept in the home to ward off evil and fire. As February 1st came around again, last year’s cross was burned and a new one would be placed on the mantel. This tradition continues today, though they aren't always placed in the home: one of my Irish friends hung her kid’s crosses from the mirror of her car.

Biddy Murphy offers a wide array of St. Brigid's Crosses jewelry. You can shop for Biddy Murphy’s St. Brigid’s Crosses here.


A Place to Gather: Irish Pub Culture

When people think of Ireland, they often think of the pubs that grace both Dublin City and the Irish countryside. For tourists to the Emerald Isle, these pubs are fun places to grab a Guinness and enjoy some vegetable soup or full Irish breakfast. For the people of Ireland, pubs are central places for groups to gather and celebrate. Pubs are everyday fixtures of life.

Due to Ireland’s rural nature, there is a need for a space for the community to come together, and pubs offer this space. When I lived in Ireland, I noticed how families would come in to the local pub after the church service. On a few occasions, I saw mourners after a funeral enjoying a beer or a meal at a pub; after all, the local undertaker was also the manager of one of the two pubs. There were at least a dozen birthdays held at the pub, from an eighteenth birthday party to a party for a woman in her fifties.

Pubs are community centers; once a week at the local pub in Tullycross was a mixed doubles pool tournament with a cash prize. You could always find men there after work chatting to each other and watching sports on the TV.

If your home bar serves as the same sort of community that an Irish bar does, consider getting some Irish barware to complete that sense of Irish spirit!

An Extra Tradition for the Day: Pancake Tuesday

For Catholics, the day before Ash Wednesday, Shrove Tuesday, is known as “Fat Tuesday,” celebrated in New Orleans as Mardi Gras and for others, such as me, with feasts and jelly-filled donuts known as Paczkis. However, when I woke up in a hostel in Galway, Ireland on Fat Tuesday 2017, I was shocked to see the hostel serving pancakes for “Pancake Tuesday.” Upon further research, I learned that it was pretty customary in Ireland and the UK to eat pancakes for a meal on Fat Tuesday. I enjoyed my pancakes, but I was honestly disappointed that I couldn’t find paczkis anywhere.

I hope you enjoyed learning about some Irish traditions! Slainte!


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