Christmas of the Celts

The Celt covers many “nationalities” and many traditions. The Celts moved up into Europe, and Asia and some remained where they were along the way in various countries. Not any different than today.  Today there are six considered Celtic nations because they have kept the native tongue.   


It is sad to note and surprising that Scotland's traditions are not that old.  When Cromwell was King of England, he banned Christmas and it's celebrations in Scotland, even though the English did honor Christmas.

The Scottish people have their big celebrations on New Year's Eve, called Hogmanay.

  • A conventional Christmas lunch includes Scotch broth, smoked salmon, roast turkey, roast potatoes, carrots, brussel sprouts, Christmas pudding and brandy custard. A Pudding known as Clootie dumpling is a traditional Christmas dessert in Scotland; children eat it with custard sauce while adults prefer rum or whiskey with it. Bannock cakes, made of oatmeal, are also traditionally eaten during Christmas.
  • People also make bonfires and dance around them, playing their traditional bagpipes all the while.

Scots believe in lighting the fires in the fireplace to prevent the elves from entering houses and causing troubles. There are many who also hang sprigs of mistletoe on ceilings and in doorways to keep the evil spirits away.

On Christmas Eve, children hang their stockings outside hoping that they would be filled with presents when they wake up in the morning. They also leave a glass of milk or Whiskey for Santa, along with mince pie and carrots for the rein deer who guide Santa’s sleigh through the dark sky.

Even with Christmas and it's celebrations beinig banned for over 400 years, Scotland gives as good a Christmas as any Celtic nation!

Nollaig Chridheil agus bliadhna mhath ur!


The primary decoration of Wales tree is Mistletoe. In ancient times, the Druid Celts considered mistletoe to be a magical plant. The Celts believed that Mistletoe held the soul of the tree it was attached to. Hanging a branch over the doorway protected the house from storms. Hung over a cradle, it would protect the child within. Mistletoe was associated with childbirth. Love would be brought to anyone who entered a house where there was the scent of Mistletoe. Mistletoe is also a plant of peace, it was decried that enemies who met under a Mistletoe could not fight but rather embrace one another.

Christmas is spent with lots of people gathering in the public square for the announcement of who, during the year, has won the prize for submitting the best music for a new carol, and the formal pronouncement of it as the carol of the year. This carol is now added to those already known and sung in Wales.

Taffy making is one of the most important of the Welsh Christmas. This involves the making of the special kind of chewy toffee from brown sugar and butter. It is boiled and then pulled so that it becomes lovely and glossy. The Christmas goose is also essential.

Welsh Toffee Recipe
three pounds brown sugar
half a pound salted butter at room temperature
juice of one lemon
¼ pint boiling water

The Welsh people maintain most of the traditional customs associated with England such as holly, mistletoe, pudding, carols, Christmas stockings, oranges, crackers and lots of snow.

Nadolig Llawen A Blywyddyn Newydd Dda


Christmas plays and puppet shows are popular entertainments at Christmas.  The shop windows of large department stores have wonderful displays of animated figures that families like to visit.

If any children did not leave their shoes out to be filled with gifts by Pere Noel on St. Nicholas Eve, they leave them out on Christmas Eve to be filled by Pere Noel or the Baby Jesus. Before going to bed, some families leave food and a candle burning, in case Mary passes by with the Christ Child. In homes that have a Christmas tree, Pere Noel hangs little toys, candies, and fruits on the tree's branches for the sleeping children.

Christmas Eve's  meal is buckwheat cakes with sour cream after church. On Christmas Day, the family goes to church again and then enjoys another abundant feast of wonderful dishes, ending with the traditional buche de Noel, a rich buttercream-filled cake shaped and frosted to look like a Yule log.

Brittany also shares some French traditions as well.

Nedeleg  Laouen Ha Bloavezh Mat


One of the most observed Christmas Eve traditions is lighting the candle and placing it in the window.  It's symbolism is to provide a sign of welcome for Mary, Joseph and the Lord Jesus as they were traveling, or anyone who may be out on that night.  Usually today, it is an electric candle and placed in as many windows as is desired.

The holly wreath originated in Ireland, as holly was plentiful during that time of year and allowed for less fortunate persons to have something to decorate with.

December 26th is St. Stephen's Day or Boxing Day.  It is a public holiday.  A wren by tradition did betray St. Stephen in his hiding place thus causing his execution.  This made the wren hated and known as the devil's bird.  Wren boys go door to door with a wren on a stick, (not real), singing a traditional song and begging for treats.

Christmas Eve, fish is eaten as a form of fasting.  Christmas day, turkey or goose and ham with trimmings is the meal but the desserts are most magnificent.  Such desserts as Christmas pudding,  mince pies with various brandy sauces and yule log cake, fill the table.

Nolliag Shona Dhuit



The roots of Christmas observance go deeply into the folklore of the Druids, Scandinavians, Romans, and Egyptians.

The Manx still hunt for the Wren.

Boxing Day is widely practiced in all the Celtic nations.

Nollick ghennal as blein vie noa


Christmas was celebrated in Cornwall when it had become unfashionable to do so across the rest of Britain.

One of the longest traditons is the Christmas bunch (wreath) with a candle in it to hang on doors or about the home.

The singing of carols is a very big tradition and if one does the homework, they shall note that the carols sung world-wide, a large number originated in Cornwall.

Cornish churches light up their towers on Christmas Eve.  Such beauty to behold!

Candle dancing is still done today.  Candles lit and placed in a round container of sand, and dancing is done around the candles.

The Twelfth Cake and the celebration of twlfth night as a feast.

Th lighting and chalking of the Mock of Block as it is.  This custom is to draw a chalk man on the Yule log to symbolize the death of the old year and start of the new year.  This is a community (public), activity and is done at the Montol Festival in Penzance.

Nadelik Lowen ha Blydhen Nowydh Da

There are many similarities of customs of the Celts in the six major countries.  Music and dance are a common thread, but we must also recognize Poland, Spain, Germany, parts of Russia as well the nations where the Celts did settle. 

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

About Mattie Dalton

In addition to writing for Marc Gunn’s Celtic Music Magazine, Mattie is a songwriter, and musician. Mattie is learning to play the Irish folk harp, "It has been proven in Neuroscience that music lights up every area of the brain therefore music enlightens us". Mattie


Christmas of the Celts — 2 Comments

  1. Just wondering…where do you think the name “Patterson” came from? I am adopted and found out my grandfather’s last name was Patterson and he was a miner in KY.

  2. Patterson is a Scotch name.
    You might want to check out geneological sites for further help with your search.