As the holiday season approaches, many people look toward traditions that have been handed down throughout generations. What many may not know is that many traditions we see during the holidays today were developed in other countries and brought to America by immigrants seeking a better life. The Irish are no exception and there are many holiday traditions with roots in Ireland.
Eugenia Sparks, owner of Irish Rose in downtown Milford, states that there are many Christmas traditions that originated in Ireland. She said that she and her husband, who was Irish, celebrated the holidays with Irish soda bread and that when they visited Ireland around the holidays, they often found Irish sausages, bangers and mash as well as corned beef and cabbage on the menu at Irish pubs.
Placing a candle in the window during the holiday season originated in Ireland to symbolize guidance for the Virgin Mary and Joseph who were seeking shelter before the birth of Christ. Ireland has historically been a Christian country with a large Catholic population. For this reason, many people of Irish descent, even those who live in other countries, attend Vigil Mass at midnight on Christmas Eve. At this mass, congregants light a holy candle that has been blessed by a bishop or high priest.
“Most of the traditions in Ireland are similar to those in the United Kingdom or the United States,” Ms. Sparks said. “But Ireland, like England, often has a much larger celebration on St. Stephen’s Day, known as Boxing Day in the United Kingdom and is celebrated on December 26. Celtic myth said that the robin, who represented the new year, killed the wren, which represented the new year. Wren Boys blacken their faces and go from house to house requesting money to bury the wren. The money collected is used to fund a “Wren Dance” that night. Originally, the boys actually killed a wren, carrying it from house-to-house, but today it is a symbolic procession without killing a wren.
Ms. Sparks said that she provides many of the items in her shop for those who wish to carry on Irish traditions in this country. Everything in the shop comes from Ireland, from Waterford crystal to Belique porcelain. This holiday season, Ms. Sparks plans to carry a line of Irish Christmas cards which can be difficult to find in the United States. She also carries a significant amount of handcrafted items, such as framed Irish poetry and jewelry.
“I love the Holiday Stroll in Milford and this year, I hope to have a leprechaun outside the store to greet everyone,” Ms. Sparks said. “We will have a lot of Irish-themed Christmas merchandise, including Santas, snowmen and angels. We also have Irish woolens, such as capes, hats, scarves and gloves.” Ms. Sparks said that she stocks woolens for men and women with all products imported from Ireland. She said that she keeps a supply of Guinness items in stock as quite a few men enjoy getting those types of items as gifts. There is also a supply of Irish silk florals, including Bells of Ireland and Scottish thistle that can be used for decorating during the holidays.
In addition to the leprechaun and holiday specials during the holiday stroll, Ms. Sparks said that she will have samples of soda bread, shortbread cookies shaped like shamrocks and chocolates imported from Ireland with whiskey in them.
Ms. Sparks and her late husband, Tom, sold Irish gifts at festivals and fairs in the area. In 2013, the couple made the decision to open a retail location in Milford, choosing 42 North Walnut Street for their ship. Unfortunately, Mr. Sparks was diagnosed with adrenal cancer and passed away shortly after they decided to open the store. Ms. Sparks chose to continue with the plan to open a retail location, naming it Irish Rose in honor of the single red rose Mr. Sparks would bring to her as a token of his love. Irish Rose is open Wednesday through Sunday from 9 AM until 5 PM.