December 15, 2008

Nollaig Shona Duit!

by Vickie McDonough

Nollaig Shona Duit!

That’s Irish for “Merry Christmas.” With Christmas quickly closing in on us, I thought I’d talk about my latest Christmas anthology and some of the Irish Christmas traditions I uncovered while researching my novella.

My first three fictions sales were for novellas. The way this works with my publisher is that an author comes up with an idea for an anthology then recruits three other authors to work with them.(One can be unpublished but three of the authors must already be established with my publisher) Once the anthology team is assembled, the group brainstorms ideas and decides in which direction they want to go and then a proposal is put together and submitted to the editor. Each author will write a 20,000 word novella. Sometimes these novella collections are very closely linked by family or town. Those require much more collaboration than ones linked only by theme.

A Bride by Christmas is my latest novella collection. The stories in it have several tie-ins:

1. One of the characters must marry by Christmas or something bad
will happen

2. The stories must be set on the prairie

3. The heroines must not be American, but from another country
and some of her Christmas traditions must be included in the

Here’s a blurb about my novella, An Irish Bride for Christmas:

When Jackson Lancaster’s brother and wife are killed in a stage holdup, he takes his three-year-old niece home. But a meddling busy-body makes the local judge give her custody, “because an unmarried man shouldn’t raise a little girl.” Now Jackson has until Christmas to find a bride or lose his niece forever. Larkin Doyle is grateful her employer took in the orphan and believes Jackson abandoned his niece. When her heart decides otherwise, will romance blossom?

And here are some Irish Christmas traditions. There are many more, but these are the more widely known ones.


The placing of a lighted candle in the window of a house on Christmas Eve had a number of purposes, but primarily it was a symbol of welcome to Mary and Joseph as they traveled looking for shelter. The candle was a way of saying there was room for Jesus' parents in these homes even if there was none in Bethlehem. The candle should be lit by the youngest member of the household and could only be extinguished by a girl bearing the name 'Mary.' (That could explain why that name used to be so popular)


After the evening meal on Christmas Eve the kitchen table was again set and on it was placed a loaf of bread filled with caraway seeds and raisins, a pitcher of milk, and a large lit candle. The door to the house was left unlatched so that Mary and Joseph, or any wandering travelers, could avail of the welcome.


The placing of a ring of holly on doors originated in Ireland as holly was one of the main plants that flourished at Christmas time and gave the poor ample means with which to decorate their dwellings. All decorations are traditionally taken down on Little Christmas (January 6th.) and it is considered to be bad luck to take them down beforehand.


Roast goose, stuffed with potatoes and onions, pig's head garlanded with curly cabbage, a piece of salt beef, and an abundance of potatoes was, and is, the never-changing menu in humble Irish households. In wealthier homes, rice pudding, plentifully sprinkled with currants, or plum pudding, was served. Among the more traditional Irish elements were spiced beef (spiced over several days, cooked, and then pressed) which can be served either hot or cold. The traditional dessert is usually composed of mince pies, Christmas pudding, and brandy or rum sauce.

Gift Giving and St. Stephen's Day:

Before Christmas it was customary to give small gifts, usually of the cash variety, to deliverymen. Long ago, this was done on St. Stephen's day, also known as Boxing Day (the day after Christmas). Traditionally, pantomime plays are performed on St. Stephen's day, in which women play the men's roles and vice-versa. In Dublin there are usually several plays going on with subjects including Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Puss in Boots, and Babes in the Wood.


During Penal Times there was once a plot in a village against the local soldiers. They were surrounded and were about to be ambushed when a group of wrens pecked on their drums and awakened the soldiers. The plot failed and the wren became known as 'The Devil's bird.'

On St. Stephens’s Day a procession takes place where pole with a holly bush is carried from house to house and families dress up in old clothes and with blackened faces. This practice of antiquity predates St. Patrick. In ancient times, a wren was beaten out of the bushes and its body hung on a holly bush. The killing of a bird is no longer tolerated but the door to door visits continue. Participants dress up in homemade costumes reminiscent of North American Halloween. The song they yell from house to house is called:

The wren, the wren,
the king of all birds

Most people treat the Wren Boys to porter and pudding. Any young people in the house are cajoled to continue on with the gang until there is a decent assembly of young folk being followed by most of the children in the neighborhood. They will end up in some neighbor’s house, and if someone produces a fiddle, the party begins.

Irish Christmas traditions draw to a close on January 6th. The 12 days of the Irish Christmas season mark the twelve days between the birth of Christ and the arrival of the "Three Wise Men", the Magi. January 6th is the day of the feast of the Epiphany. It is called "Little Christmas" in Ireland, Nollaig Bheag in Gaelic.

Little Christmas is sacred as a celebration of God's manifestation to us in human form...Jesus. Some say that long ago, before Western Civilization adopted the Gregorian calendar, the Epiphany was the traditional day to celebrate the birth of Christ, and that this is the reason the Irish still call this day Little Christmas.

Isn’t it interesting how many of our traditions today date back to some of these? I did a lot of research on Irish Christmas celebrations but was able to use very little of it in my short novella. Of course, I’m saving it, and maybe one of these days, I’ll write a longer book and have the chance to incorporate more of my research.

Here’s a link if you’d like to buy my book:

Or, if you’d like to try to win a copy, here’s my contest question: What are the first names of the three heroines in my Oklahoma Brides book?

Vickie McDonough


Jo said...

The names of the three heroines in the Oklahoma Brides book are Rebekah, Katie and Sasha. Please enter me in the drawing.


Cheri2628 said...

Rebekah, Katie, and Sasha!

All of your books have the prettiest covers!


Cleda said...

Those were the three names mentioned in the wonderful trailer included at the website, Rebekah, Katie and Sasha.... thanks for the opportunity to be included in the drawing... It was wonderful to learn about the Irish CHRISTmas traditions included in the blog.... thanks for sharing...

Cleda said...

In case I voided my prior comment by not using the right format for address I will add another... Those were the names of the 3 characters revealed in the trailer for the books... Rebekah, Katie and Sasha... thanks for the opportunity to be included in the drawing...


Pamela J said...

The trailer was very helpful, not only with the names, but sentences of each heroine that made me want to read all the stories and see how each one turned out. The names you asked for are Rebekah, Katie, and Sasha.
I thought it was marvelous all the Christmas research you did and just KNOW that some day you will be able to use some or all of it somewhere. Keep up the good work with your writing.
Pam Williams
cepjwms at yahoo dot com

Sandee61 said...

Rebekah, Katie and Sasha are the names. Thanks for letting me enter your giveaway. I'd love to read the book.

Christmas Blessings to you and yours,


brendalottakamaggiebrendan said...

Enjoyed reading about the Irish traditions., Vickie I'm part Irish (O'Neal) but some of these I didn't know. Thanks for the research.

Molly Noble Bull said...

The photos of food made me hungry to read your books.

Maureen said...

The names are Rebekah, Katie and Sasha.

Sean said...

Merry Christmas, everybody!

The winner of A Bride by Christmas is Sandee61 Muzzley56[at]aol[dot]com