Nostalgic Christmas traditions
Nostalgic Christmas traditions

Have yourself a Northern Irish little Christmas – 90s edition

Nothing brings back stronger nostalgic memories of childhood in Northern Ireland, than the festive season.

Every nation has special traditions and shared experiences of their own, but we think ours are right up there with the best in the world. (I mean, of course we do!)

Come with us on a trip down memory lane, as we revisit Christmas in the 90s. Before iPads and Elf on the Shelf, when it was all about tacky decorations, Christmas annuals and home-recorded VHS tapes.

We hope this short blog helps you to relive the magic, unlocks core memories, or at the very least, gives you a wee giggle.

The Christmas Cupboard
The Christmas Cupboard

The Christmas cupboard

What better place to start than the Christmas cupboard. You know one where your ma began stockpiling sweets, biscuits and mince pies from about July? You wouldn’t dare think about opening anything before Christmas Eve – Northern Irish mammies had a sixth sense about that sort of thing!

No Christmas cupboard was complete without bucketloads of Shloer. Did you know that Shloer isn’t anywhere near as big of a deal anywhere else in the world as it is in Northern Ireland? Because I for one, did not. It was basically rite of passage for your mum to bring home 16 bottles when it was on offer in your local shop for 79p.

As adults, we appreciate that this tradition was simply to offset the time and cost nearer to Christmas. As a kid? Well, we thought it was a way for parents to torture their kids.

Unexpected snow days

You’re seven years old. It’s December. You wake up one day to see your garden covered in a thick white blanket of snow, and you hear the blessed news that your school ‘pipes are frozen’ and thus the day was officially declared a ‘snow day.’ AKA a once-in-a-blue-moon opportunity for hot chocolate, sledding and snowball fights with your mates. Do you remember the absolute euphoria?

Christmas tree inevitabilities

Firstly, your parents would bicker about who had taken down the tree last year and left the lights in such a tangled mess. And the sheer agony of having to try and figure out ‘what bulb blew’! Of course, it was always the last one! Secondly, you’d fight with your siblings who got to put the star (or angel) on top of the tree. Classic.

School Nativity
School Nativity

Painful school nativities

If you got cast as Mary or Joseph in the school nativity play, you were kind of a big deal. Right?

We’d be willing to bet that a high percentage of the NI population have sang ‘Away in a Manger,’ while dressed in old duvet cover tunics, tea towels and tinsel, at some stage in their primary school days!

School nativity plays are a big thing in Northern Ireland, and the month of December was usually taken up with rehearsals for the big night. And you either absolutely loved showing off in front of all your family every year, or you can trace back to these fateful events as the source of your public-speaking fear.


Christmas TV listings

If there was one thing with the ability to bring a household together and tear it apart simultaneously – it was the highly-anticipated Christmas edition of the Radio Times.

You could plan out your entire day based on what you wanted to watch on TV! But if your programme clashed with the festive edition of Top of the Pops that your big sister wanted to watch, there would be a fight. Likely involving remote-control-shaped missiles.


Let’s go to the Panto!

Whether you saw May McFettridge at the Grand Opera House in Belfast, or watched your local theatre group, it wasn’t Christmas without a trip to the Pantomime.

Did they create new jokes and storylines every year? Oh no, they didn’t. Did we laugh at the same jokes every year like it was the first time we’d ever heard them? OH YES WE DID.


The Big Man
The Big Man

Visiting the man in the big red suit

Children all over the world go and visit Santa and tell him what they’d like for Christmas. That’s not exactly unique to Northern Ireland.

But do parents in other countries still use that one baby photo of you (bawling your eyes out on Santa’s knee) as ammunition to this day? Nah, that’s just us.

Book of Dreams
Book of Dreams

Laminated book of dreams

As of January 2021, after printing over 1 billion copies, the Argos paper catalogue ceased publication. Our kids will never feel their legs go numb as they sit with the giant book sprawled across their laps.

What are they doing now? Creating a wish list on Amazon? Sharing a google doc with links? (Sigh).

There was something so satisfying about circling all the stuff you wanted for Christmas, neatly folding down the corner of the page, or even cutting it out (if you were really extra!) From Hot Wheels tracks and Gameboys to
Barbies and Tamagotchis, it was basically the 90s version of Instagram.


Undisputed dinner of the year

Between getting the timings right and trying to live up to the pressure of the big day, there’s no denying that Christmas dinner is one of the most stressful meals to prepare. Now that we’re older we can understand it, but does anyone else remember their mother up to high doh every single Christmas? If you volunteered to help you were ‘getting in the way,’ and if you did stay out of the way, you were the worst in the world!

But your wee ma came through with the goods every year without fail. You’d wear the coloured hats from the Christmas crackers, and eat your body weight in roasties, until you were dangerously close to a full-scale food coma. After a big slice of Walls Vienetta (or Christmas cake, if you were over the age of 50), the whole family would roll to the sofa, stick on a Christmas movie, and bask in the glory of that unbelievable post-Christmas-dinner-nap.


Sweetie tin
Sweetie tin

Sweet tin wars 

Ok, every family is different for this one, but I’m sure you’ll relate to the fact that there was (and still is) one family-favourite sweet in every tin. And that means every year there was a fight to the death with your siblings to get your hands on the best one, and stuff it into your mouth as quick as humanly possible. In the late 90s, we all fought over the Maltesers in the Celebrations tin. And come January, there was just a sad remnant of unwanted Bountys.

*Fun fact: 39% of the UK population agree with us, and in November 2022, Mars released a limited-edition ‘No Bounty’ tub free from the nasty little coconut monstrosities. Proper order.



And last but not least, no Christmas would be complete without a trip to Leisure World! Belfast’s answer to Hamley's, it was a child’s toy paradise. All the toys were out on display AND you were allowed to touch them. Good times!

Well wasn’t that wholesome? Whether you’re flying home to see your nearest and dearest, or are spending the holidays apart this year, we hope this helped to bring back the sights, sounds, smells, and magic of the Christmases of your youth in Northern Ireland.

Feel free to share this with someone in your family. And if you think there’s any key Northern Irish Christmas memories or traditions that we’re missing, we’d love to hear your thoughts!

Christmas memories
Christmas memories

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