Winter Wassailing, Irish Wren Day and Preserving Local Tradition in Modern Times

| 12/28/2020 6:59:00 PM

Girl Overlooking Misty Valley

When my daughter was little, she used to jump into bed with me on cold December mornings and tell me all about Santa, or what “St. Necklace”, brought her or about a dream she had the night before. Where we live in the Irish countryside, Christmas was small and somewhat isolated, but that made them meaningful — I don’t remember the presents I bought, but I’ll remember those moments until I die.

This year, many people are upset that they will be celebrating an unusually small and isolated Christmas, without the usual shopping and giant gatherings. I understand being separated from family, as I’ve been separated from mine in America for many years. I will, however, point out that “normal” Christmases aren’t always healthy or relaxing for many people I know.

Every year, we feel like we have to spend too much, eat too much, drink too much, listen to the same terrible rock songs, watch certain television specials, put up enough lights to make our house visible from space and pretend to be cheerful when we are not. There’s nothing sacred about these pop culture traditions, though; Santa Claus and many of the carols we sing are of surprisingly recent invention, often less than a hundred years old, and often created as advertising campaigns.

I’m not trying to be a Grinch about this — I told my daughter about Santa, and I enjoy the occasional Christmas song. I simply don’t feel obliged to hear all the songs, over and over, for a few months. What’s more, the new ones are squeezing out many local and truly traditional family rituals that date back longer than we can measure.

Celebrating Irish Wren Day

Take one example here in Ireland: The day after Christmas was called Wren Day — like the bird — and local families used gather in the nearby woods for a ritual called the “hunting of the wren”. Local men dressed up in Robin Hood outfits, calling themselves “wren boys,” as they held a toy wren and told the children stories of the wren being the cleverest of all birds. They warned of the Straw Boys who wanted to hunt the wren, but how they were there to protect it.

1/11/2021 6:41:10 AM

Brian, welcome back to GRIT blogging. I'm not much of a traveler but being 1/3 Irish and given a change to visit Ireland, I would definitely take advantage of it. The Wassail drink peaks my interest. It would be a nice drink to warm the heart and body on these cold winter days here in Nebraska. ***** I agree that traditions are fading away and being taken over by the advertisement generated incentive to shop for Christmas. I came back to a small immediate family dinner for Christmas this year. I want to do that outside the the holiday season for no other reason than, as you know, to build family memories. That is indeed the most important things we can do with our kids and grandkids. ***** Thank you so much for once again sharing your thoughts. ***** Have a great memory making day. ***** Nebraska Dave

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