Friday, December 14, 2007

Get in the Christmas spirit - do your housecleaning!

The Irish have only a few Christmas traditions that stand out as traditionally Irish and not borrowed from other cultures in recent times. Perhaps the oldest of these traditions is - housecleaning! And it may, too, have been borrowed from other cultures - although it was as long ago as before the birth of Christ.

This is not your typical housecleaning. Traditional Irish "whitewashing the house" for Christmas involves cleaning and polishing the house and everything in it. As this Christmas Archives webpage puts it, "The cleaning of the house from top to bottom...Every window and glass sparking, all the silver polished till it shone." Take a drive through the Irish countryside in December and you may see a farmhouse that has the freshly whitewashed look.

Supposedly the "holiday cleansing" tradition originated in the purification ceremonies of ancient cultures, including the Mesopotamians circa 4000 B.C. It has long been a part of the preparations in Ireland (and some other European countries) for Christmas day, and can still be found in many rural areas today.

So get yourself in the Christmas spirit - go do some housecleaning! Whitewash your outhouse (if you have one); clean out the stables (if you're lucky enough to own livestock). If not, put up some fresh curtains and put out some new table linens. If you want to have a traditional Irish Christimas, it's time to purify and freshen up your home for Christmas in honor of the coming of the Christ Child.

Better get to work!

The topic for this post was inspired by Thomas MacEntee's Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories at Destination: Austin Family. Check out his calendar daily this month for some good mini-memoirs of this nostalgic season. This post will be listed under Christmas Grab Bag on December 15.

Image of the hand-made corn brooms courtesy of Lehman's. Image of the whitewashed cottage courtesy of Cuilcagh Tours.


Thomas MacEntee said...

Well, my family used to practice this custom (being McGinneses, Sullivans and O'Keefes). I remember my mother would have us all pitch in and start around the second week of December (because back then there was none of this Christmas season starting November 1st business).

As I grew up I later learned that my Jewish friends had a similar practice prior to Passover: everything had to be cleaned in the kitchen which may have traces of yeast or any leavening. Counters were covered with aluminum foil.

I always thought of our Irish custom this way: we were not only cleaning for the upcoming season, its decorations and visits from family, but it was also a time to think about cleaning your heart and your conscience to prepare for the arrival of the Baby Jesus.

Janet I said...

Thanks for sharing this pre-Christmas tradition with your readers. It sounds like a good practice.

As I read today's postings, I am at least trying to sort through papers in my office to have the place "in order" before Christmas


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