An abundance of food is one of the joys of Christmas and the Irish make this feast an integral part of the holiday. Like Christmas in the United States, the Christmas dinner is meant to be shared among visiting family and friends and may include turkey or ham, stuffing, cranberry sauce, and the like. For the Irish, there are some special dishes made especially for this time of year. As in much of northern Europe, Christmas goose is often found on the table but the Irish also provide an uncommon dish – Spiced Beef. The beef is spiced over a few weeks, then cooked and pressed before serving either hot or cold.
There are also the desserts and sweets that include mince meat pies, puddings with brandy or rum sauce, and the Christmas cake – a fruit cake that is often the brunt of jokes as in America. There’s an amusing Tin-Pan Alley song called “Miss Fogarty’s Christmas Cake” that derides this Irish holiday favorite in its chorus:
There were plums and prunes and cherries
There were citrons and raisins and cinnamon, too
There was nutmeg, cloves and berries
And a crust that was nailed on with glue
There were caraway seeds in abundance
Sure t’would build up a fine stomach ache
It could kill a man twice
After eating a slice
Of Miss Fogarty’s Christmas Cake
The Laden Table
One particular Irish Christmas tradition is known as “The Laden Table” takes place on Christmas Eve. After the evening meal, the table is cleared then reset. On the table, the family will put a loaf of bread or Christmas cake filled with raisins and caraway seeds along with a pitcher of milk. Then the front door is unlatched. This is done to commemorate the travels of Mary and Joseph and signal that this home offers rest and restoration for the weary traveller.
For Americans, the milk and bread may sound pretty familiar. After all, it’s what many households do for Santa but with milk and cookies instead. Interestingly, this American tradition involving Santa has bounced back to Irish shores where some now replace the table laden with milk and bread for a slice of mince pie and a bottle of Guinness for good Saint Nick.