Irish Easter Traditions

Easter is certainly the most important holiday on the Roman Catholic calendar. Ireland has a long list of traditions around it, some of which relate to Christ’s return to life and some of which have grown out of old Celtic practices that have more to do with the agricultural calendar than with religion.

Easter comes in springtime, at about the same time as the Vernal Equinox, which ancient Celts associated with fertility rites. For Catholics, Easter Sunday comes at the end of Lent, a 40-day period of fasting when many eat no meat, and some give up additional things like smoking or alcohol. Here are some of Ireland’s Easter traditions, a few of which are a bit strange:

On Good Friday:

  • A complete “spring cleaning” of the home.
  • Doing no work with tools, in order to avoid spilling any blood from an accident.
  • Mark one of the eggs laid on the farm on Good Friday to be eaten with the celebration meal on Sunday.
  • If you die on this Good Friday, you go directly to heaven.
  • Gather food on the shore, but do not go out fishing in a boat.

On Easter Saturday:

  • Go to church and drink a few sips of holy water, then sprinkle a bit on the family and even the farm animals for good luck.
  • Turn off all lights in church at 11 pm and light a Paschal Candle as a symbol of Christ rising from the tomb.

On Easter Sunday:

  • Get up at sunrise and do a celebration dance.
  • A mock funeral is conducted by the town butchers with a dead herring. The poor fish is a symbol of the end of Lent, when some Irish folk once ate lots of herring, because it was the only available alternative to meat.
  • Gather for a contest called a “cake dance,” where the winner gets the cake

Happy Easter!

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