10 Northern Irish Traditions

6:22 AM

Life in Northern Ireland has many similarities to life in the U.S., however, as any expat will tell you, there are always differences you stumble across that will stick in your mind forever! 

1. Pies with a Secret Ingredient

During my time as a church intern, we often had the benefit of lovely church ladies dropping meals at our door. One night, after work, we arrived home to find a freshly baked apple pie awaiting us. Like a school of sharks discovering chum, we crowded around the kitchen table, eyes wide with barely concealed food lust. Frank, our resident Spaniard, took the first bite. With an unexpected cry of pain, he shot up out of his chair screaming bloody murder. Wordlessly, all of us stared at the deadly pie in horror, as Frank suddenly spit out a hot metal coin onto the table. "THERE'S MONEY IN THE PIE!!" he cried out, all the while feeling his charred tooth. With a happy sigh of relief, our only resident Northern Irishman smiled, "Oh aye, they always put 5ps in the pies this time of year." And with that non-explanation, he happily gulped down his pie. I've looked at Nirish pies with suspicion ever since. 

2. Orangemen 

No, I'm not talking about Donald Trump! Every year, on the 12th of July, the men of the Orange Order, or "Orangemen," parade with bands through various towns in Northern Ireland. The bands are often composed of flutes, bagpipes and massive percussive instruments, called "Lambeg Drums." People line the streets to see the men walk past with their black bowler hats, white gloves, and orange sashes. The Orangemen are a Protestant group who have garnered their name from King William of Orange - a king well known for his firm Protestant beliefs. "King Billy"as he is fondly called by his fans, has certainly left his mark upon Northern Ireland as well as England, with many a song inspired in his name, and many a landmark commemorating his arrival. 

3. Doing Somebody Up 

As Americans, we are very familiar with the tradition of the Bachelor party. In the U.K. at large, this is called the "Stag Do" (while bachelorette parties are called "Hen Dos.") A peculiar stag tradition, only maintained in a few parts of the U.Ks., is known as "the doing." Generally, the future bridegroom (and sometimes the future bride as well!) will be tied to a lamppost and have all sorts of horrible concoctions thrown at them. From out of date eggs, to flour and maggots, there really is no end to the creativity some stag parties come up with. Depending on how rowdy your mates are and how badly you've treated other prospective grooms in the past, will often dictate how merciful your "doing" will be. In some parts of the country, the groom is also thrown in the back of a horse trailer while tied up and taken for a wild ride through town, oftentimes right past local police, who usually see it as a right of passage. 

 4. Visiting Everyone You Know at Christmas

Christmas in Northern Ireland is magical. From Christmas markets to numerous carol services, it's easily the most fabulous time of the year. However, one thing I was entirely unprepared for were the Christmas visits. Not only do you catch up with family and friends around the week of Christmas, in the lead up to the holiday, you will probably visit nearly everyone you know. The entire country becomes an open house, with visitors dropping by and visits returned with boxes of chocolate on hand for some extra Christmas cheer. (And of course, tea with a wee bickie!) 

5. Boxing Day

For us Americans, the day after Christmas is one of depression and woe, with many of us returning straight back to work. However, for the British, Christmas is extended one day further with Boxing Day! For families with two sets of grandparents, this can be a great way to meet up with the other side of the family and have a second Christmas feast and even more presents. It's a great day that definitely should be exported! 

6. The "Do You Know" Game

If you've spent any amount of time in Northern Ireland, you'll no doubt have been privy to a conversation that started something like this: "Which part of the country are you from?" "Ah, and which school did you go to?" "Did you happen to live up the road from a man with a dog?" "Oh aye, that was my second cousin's granda!" Once the connection (no matter how tenuous) has been made, the person will be met with a quiet nod and the same questions fired back. And yet, this seemingly friendly and innocuous conversation has given each party a nearly complete backstory into that person's life. The answers to these questions will indicate whether you're from the country or the city culturally, what kind of people you associate with, what kind of education you've had, whether you're related, and possibly even your religious background! Unfortunately, for us foreigners, we are one blank slate! 

7. The Summer Lull

While Christmas in NI is absolute mayhem, the summertime lull is something I've never quite experienced in any other country. As June and July roll around, it's as if time stops. The seemingly never ending cycle of events tapers off, as one by one families leave for a "wee holiday in Spain," or stay at home to tend the garden. Friends you would normally see on a weekly basis, disappear to various quiet activities and even some churches stop for a week or two. As someone coming from a 24/7 culture, the break is a bit jarring, but as I soon learned, the rest of the year is filled with so many events, visits, and general chaos, that the summer lull is to be embraced as a much needed rest. 

8. Wakes

In the States, a death is seen as a quiet, mournful event and often the family are left to grieve in peace. Statements such as "give them some space," would be seen as normal and even thoughtful. No one wants to be seen as intruding on an intimate moment. In NI, however, death is seen as a community affair. The family of the deceased are visited, and sat with, brought food, and everything is talked out. I remember the first time Nathan asked me to accompany him on one such visit. My cultural sensitivities cringed as I thought of me, a stranger, showing up at the house of someone who had lost their loved one. And yet, as soon as we arrived, the family greeted us kindly and warmly. We talked about the man that had passed, shared stories, and had a cup of tea. It was clear, this was the way of things here and instead of putting on a brave face, they chose to accept death as a part of life and to hold up the grieving widow as best they could. I'm not sure if I'd have the bravery to do as they did, but I was taken aback by how healthy the whole process seemed. 

9. Food Traditions

Sitting at my future in-laws house on a Sunday afternoon, I was passed the mashed potatoes. Taking some, I moved on to the other courses, only to be passed yet another type of potatoes. 

"Maybe they just made extra because there are so many people," I thought in my confusion. 

Covertly, checking out the other's plates, I noticed that everyone had taken both types of potatoes. It was soon after I realized that it was traditional to have different types of potatoes at every meal! For a potato lover, this was pretty much the mother ship. 
Potatoes aren't the only things that are doubled up, at Christmastime, it's common to have both ham and turkey on the day! Another, Northern Irish food tradition, is the "traybake." Traybakes are literally anything that can be made on a baking sheet, but some common favorites are "fifteens," and "caramel squares." (click on links for recipes!)

10. Fake Tan

I was unsure as to whether this one should make the list, but fake tan is definitely a cultural yes in the U.K.! From Princess Kate, down to a girl having a night out on the town, fake tan is one of the largest spends in the cosmetic industry out here. As someone who's been teased to death about their deathly pale skin, fake tan does have a bit of a draw, but coming from the Western U.S., it's also frowned upon unless done professionally. I will say, those lovely Southern belles, do appreciate a bit of fake tan more than the Californians! (We're supposed to be able to tan naturally, lol!) So, it's a no win situation for this Californian abroad! 

There are so many other traditions I wanted to add! What are some cultural traditions you can think of in your country? Leave me a comment below!  ⬇️⬇️⬇️⬇️

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