For many of us in America, December 26th is the day to lounge around eating leftover Christmas treats and play with our new presents. In parts of Ireland, one holiday is followed by yet another holiday, as December 26th is St. Stephen’s Day. Hopefully you didn’t party too hard the day before because it’s an all day and night party called Wren’s Day. It involves a good amount of drinking (Guinness of course) but mainly dressing up in costumes and going around the town singing.
Starting as early as the morning, people dress up in different outfits depending where they live. In Dingle, they wear straw costumes and going around the streets with banners announcing The Wren. Where I was in Castlegregory, one person dresses up as a white horse while the rest of their group follows them around.
What exactly is The Wren? There are several different stories, but one legend has it that a bird (the wren) betrayed Irish soldiers who were fighting against the invading Viking by beating its wings on their shields. This betrayed St. Stephen (who the day is named after), and since then the wren has been hunted. Back in the day, they used to hunt down an actual wren to put on their hat, but now a fake one will do for most people.
When people are dressed up, they go around singing a song that begins like this:
The Wren, the Wren
The King of the Birds
On Stephen’s Day
He was caught in the furze.
Up with the kettle
And down with the pan
Give us your answer
And let us be gone.
While I was there, I saw groups of people going around to different houses singing and asking for money. It’s common practice for them to go to the bars singing the song to each person and hoping you put money in it. At the first pub I was at, these little girls were even coming in the pubs asking for money while their mom was waiting in a van outside! Some people gave them money, but others rejected them and asked what they were going to do with the money (hence why they’re running away in embarrassment here).
The collection of money goes for different causes. Some just go around singing with large groups and collecting money that will be split up later for them to drink at the last pub. There were also groups that were collecting money that was going to a good cause, such as a charity organization. Either way, it seemed the entire town was out that night having fun. Below is what one of the groups looked like with their horse leader and others following them.
I loved that people of every age participated in Wren Day. I saw people as old as 80 walking along with their group singing, and I saw plenty of kids under 10 years old. I had heard about this tradition in Ireland before but had no idea how popular it was. Every pub was jam-packed with people having a blast and singing different songs. I was so glad I got to experience this while I was there, and would love to go back!
What traditions have you experienced while traveling?
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