An Ode To Culchie Christmas

For many of us who grew up outside of Dublin, December 8th was a pretty significant day...

Photo by Mathias Reding / pexels

Christmas is, of course, full of traditions. From Christmas Eve pyjamas, 12 pubs and the freezing swim or walk, to more recent ones like Elf on the Shelf. But there is one tradition that simply can’t be beaten. A tradition that has fallen out of fashion in the age of online shopping. And that is Culchie Shopping Day, AKA December 8th.

Now, the people outside The Pale didn’t band together one day and decide that on a random day they would descend on Dublin or their nearest city. This date is actually the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, which meant that schools used to be off. And a mass exodus would occur.

This is a love letter to that one day of the year when my mother would wrap me up in my thickest coat, a woolly hat and a pair of mittens to bundle me onto the bus from Monaghan to Dublin. It was a family outing – my nanny would also come with us and we would meet my auntie who was very cosmopolitan and lived in Dublin. She would be our tour guide for the day.

First stop was Clerys, mostly because the bus would drop us off just across the road from the iconic shop. To be perfectly honest, I don’t remember much about the layout of Clerys but I vividly remember discovering bath pearls for the first time in the shape of a dolphin.

I begged my mother to buy it for me, which she did, along with a face cloth that was vacuum sealed and would expand once it got wet. Trust me, my little mind was blown. I would race up the stairs in Jervis Shopping Centre to get to Waterstones. The highlight of my trip.

I would sit there looking at books for what felt like hours. It was a little bookworm’s dream – it still is, I miss that shop every day.  After getting lunch, I would beg for the very exotic KFC, my mother would march me to get my Christmas day ensemble. And I felt like a princess as I looked at all the sparkles in shops that were so big I couldn’t wrap my head around it. Now as an adult, they’re less impressive in size but never in sparkle.

As I was marched up and down streets in Dublin, we would pass by other confused-looking families who also made the pilgrimage to the capital. We would all be laden with bags as we trawled the high street to find all our last-minute Christmas bits.


Of course, a visit to Santa was also on the cards. And we queued and queued and queued before I was bustled into a tiny house, rambled my Santa list (three presents plus a surprise) and then got my picture taken. Truly, the dream!

The smell of Marks and Spencer will forever be embedded in my mind as a trolley was loaded up with “fancy biscuits”. This is a tradition that is still ongoing. However, at the time, walking around another supermarket was not very exciting.

Oh, how seven-year-old me would shudder if she found out but my grá for a Big Tesco! Before we trudged home with bags upon bags on the bus, my mam would permit me to go to Toymaster. I have no sense of direction, none, but when I moved to Dublin for college, the only place I could find without my trusty Google Maps was Toymaster. (It’s not hard to find in hindsight but let me have this one!)

Of course, I wasn’t allowed to buy anything because Santie was coming. But by God did I look! Every single aisle was examined.

Then it was back onto the bus and back home with rosy cheeks and frozen breath. The bus, a local bus company, left us off at the top of the road where we lived and we trundled down to our house laden with bags. 

I’ve since been informed that those who lived in Dublin were told to avoid the city centre when the culchies arrived. Precious advice. We were probably insufferable. As I got older, the bus changed to a car, Toymaster was swapped for HMV and clothes shopping became more and more essential.

Then as my teenage years rolled on, online shopping and Black Friday were introduced. And the thought of driving anywhere for Christmas presents was insane. 

But if I could bottle any day during Christmas, it would be this memorable day. The excitement of leaving the house before the sun came up and getting home well after the sun set. The Christmas lights throughout the city and the jampacked shop windows.

Culchie shopping day, you’ll always be famous!

This article originally appeared in the December 2023 issue of STELLAR magazine.