Christmas in Mayo

Christmas is the largest celebration of the year and Mayo's Christmas traditions are similar to those in Ireland and most Western countries.

This Celebration officially starts on 8th December, when the Christmas Tree goes up and is decorated, and lasts to "Little Christmas" on 6th January, better known as "Epiphany" or "Nollag na Mban".

The placing of a lighted candle in the window of a house on Christmas Eve is still practised. Its primary purpose is to welcome Mary and Joseph and it is lit at 6pm on this day. Christmas Eve is a very special evening in almost every home in the country.

Families join together for the Christmas Day Mass or the Midnight Mass, a popular choice for Roman Catholics. It is also a time for remembering the dead with prayers being offered for deceased at Masses. It is traditional to decorate graves at Christmas with a wreath made of holly and ivy.

St. Stephen's Day, 26th December, is also known as Boxing Day or Wren Day. Groups of boys calling themselves Wren Boys or Straw Boys and carrying a pole decorated with a fake wren (a dead one in the past) celebrate the wren by dressing up in masks, straw suits and colourful clothing and, accompanied by traditional céilí music bands, parade through the towns and village and call into country houses to dance, sing and make music. In recent time they call mostly to public houses and hotels.

Come and Experience the real Mayo Christmas!

Nowadays Christmas markets and fairs take place all over the country: Westport, Achill, Ballina, Castlebar, Ballycroy, Foxford and Newport are the most popular. Knitwear, jewellery, stone craft, local, traditional crafts and artisan foods are on sale.

There is a good array of events to choose from. Children can meet Santa (in Irish Daidí na Nollag), Mrs Claus and Elves in Westport House's Winter Wonderland; puppets, bouncing castles, Santa's Grotto and workshops for kids and adults promise fun days. Concerts, Gospel Choir, carol singing, street performances at various venues are held all over Christmas time, everyone will be sure to find the ideal Christmas gift in the best shops and stores decorated with sparkling Christmas decorations and wreaths.

However, if you want to live your Christmas in the richness of its deep meaning, Knock Shrine is the right place where you can go on a pilgrimage and celebrate the spirituality of Christmas.

If you are keen on outdoor activities remember Mayo can cater for you. There are two exciting events: the Westport's 10th Annual Christmas Walking Festival and the more traditional New Year's Day Swim on Achill Island.

Mayo can also offer a vibrant and bright Christmas time, Christmas Parties and New Years Eve to suit all tastes take place in the most luxury hotels, where music will play and champagne's glasses will glitter.

Christmas Folk Lore

Mayo is a county rich in folklore and heritage; customs are being passed on to the present generation, and for this reason, Christmas still preserves the old echo of bygone days,

Until a few years ago, in Castlebar, the old tradition of “The Waits” still went on. The origin of this custom can be traced through eight centuries, and it throws many insights into the manners and customs of the past.

In Connaught, the tradition was carried out in Ballinrobe, Ballyhaunis, Carrick-on-Shannon, Westport and Swinford, but the only town in Ireland to retain this custom for a long time was Castlebar. The continuation of the tradition in Castlebar was definitely influenced by the fact that the town was a British Garrison town with several Scottish Regiments residing there until the foundation of the Free State.

Residents of old Castlebar have continued the custom: “The Auld Stock” ( in recent years from McHale Road and previously Lucan Street, New Antrim Street, Tucker Street known as “The Lower End”) to the south west of the town river. The Waits playing their instruments waked the people to the sounds of music and greetings in the early hours of the morning in the days before Christmas. Generations of Castlebar children have waited anxiously to be called by their parents to see and hear the Waits on their rounds in the early hours of the morning.

The old people remember the tradition of the 'Big Christmas Market' or "Margadh Mor Nollaig" was very strong in many Mayo's towns.

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