The rich and distinctive heritage of Europe means that there’s a wealth of holiday traditions to explore. We love Ireland, England and Iceland at any time of year, but the holidays are a great time to recognize how special and distinctive these places are.
“The holly green, the ivy green, the prettiest picture you’ve ever seen.” That’s Bing Crosby singing his classic about Christmas in Killarney, and the festivities in Ireland today still live up to the song. All the cities, towns and villages are festooned with lights and greenery. One beloved old Irish tradition is to put a single candle in the window, which legend says is a sign to any travelers that they could rest there for the night, in remembrance of the Nativity story. Santa Claus makes a visit, and he’s often treated to mince pies and a pint of Guinness, left out before the family goes to bed.
Britain’s Christmas traditions center on the food. Christmas dinner usually means roast turkey or a goose, an assortment of vegetables and potatoes and cranberry sauce. Then for dessert, there might be a rich fruitcake, mince pies, a Christmas pudding and a cheeseboard. A highlight is the pulling of the Christmas crackers – cardboard tubes wrapped in paper containing a paper crown (which must be donned for the rest of dinner), a joke and a small toy. The Christmas cracker was invented in the mid-19th century by a London confectioner, who added a tiny bit of explosive so the cracker would snap when it was pulled. Boxing Day is the day after Christmas – traditionally the day that servants got a day off. They’d receive a Christmas box from their employers, which they would open with their families at home.
Christmas is a festive time in Iceland, with the holiday hubbub starting with Advent, which begins four Sundays before the big day. In December it’s dark most of the time in Iceland, but festive lights add a magical air. In the days leading up to Christmas, children get nightly visits from one of 13 Yule Lads, mischievous elfin creatures from Icelandic folklore who have evolved into a version of Santa Claus. Christmas Eve is when people gather for dinner with their families and open their presents. The present usually includes at least one book, as literature is a national obsession, and after dinner those who don’t go to Midnight Mass will often start their reading. Christmas Day is a time for relaxing with family, continuing the feasting, watching films and playing games.
The rich heritage of these destinations is what gives their Christmas traditions their special flavor – but the cultural wealth of Ireland, Britain and Iceland are available to you any time of year, and there’s no better way to discover it all than with CIE Tours. A guided vacation, self-drive or private driver experience with CIE Tours will give you the warmest of welcomes, all the local lore and the most authentic of experiences. Contact your travel advisor or visit the CIE Tours website to learn more.