Women’s Christmas, January 6 -An Irish Christmas Tradition

All over Ireland, January 6 marks the end of the Christmas season – it is the day  on which the fairy lights, the Christmas tree, the decorations and the Christmas cards are taken down and put away for another year. It is considered bad luck if decorations remain displayed after this date! January 6 has many titles – Epiphany, Little Christmas, 12th Night , Women’s Christmas, Women’s Little Christmas,and Nollaig na mBan. Such an important day to have 6 different names!

Epiphany: The 3 Kings arrive with gifts

In Ireland, ‘Little Christmas’  (‘Nollaig Bheag’ in Irish) is one of the traditional names for January 6, the feast of the Epiphany. Epiphany is a Christian celebration of the day on which the Magi arrived with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh to honour the new-born baby Jesus, the day on which Jesus is revealed to the gentiles. Epiphany is one of the oldest Christian holy days that originated in the Eastern church and was adopted by the Western church in the 4th century. ‘Little Christmas’ is so-called because under the Julian Calendar, Christmas day celebrations were held in January,whereas under the Gregorian calendar, Christmas day falls on December 25.

Twelfth Night,which coincides with Epiphany has been celebrated as the end of the Christmas season for centuries. In the 18th and 19th Centuries, Twelfth Night was one of the most  important days in the Christian calendar. Twelfth Night parties were common where participants enjoyed food and drink and games. A special Twelfth cake, the forerunner of today’s Christmas cake, was the centrepiece of the party, with a slice offered to all members of the household, above and below stairs. In 1756, The Gentleman’s Magazine reported that: the king, and his entourage ” went to the Chapel Royal at St James’ and offered gold, myrrh and frankincense” on Twelfth Night.

Some years ago I found myself in County Kerry on January 6. I was astonished to see hotels crowded with women – and no men to be seen! On enquiring, I was informed that they were celebrating ‘Women’s Christmas’ or ‘Nollaig na mBan’ in Irish. This has been a long-standing tradition in Counties Kerry and Cork, when women celebrate the end of the Christmas season, the decorations are down, the long season of preparation and cooking is over  and the women folk have a celebratory meal. It is also celebrated in Newfoundland which has a strong affinity with Ireland and in some  states of the United States of America where the tradition was kept alive  by Irish immigrants.

The fascinating thing about this tradition is that, rather than dying out like so many other traditions, its popularity has begun to grow and it is now being celebrated across the country. Women in Dublin organize lunches for their women friends, Limerick women are meeting in their own homes for lovely dinners, Sligo women are coming together to enjoy female company – women only ‘get-togethers’ are being organized all over the place! Long may it continue!

If you know of other areas where this tradition is celebrated, I would be delighted to hear about it.

Happy Nollaig na mBan (pronounced null-ag na man) to all readers!

References

Internet Archive :Gentleman’s Magazine 

bbc.co.uk

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18 Comments

Filed under Celebrations in Ireland, Irish Culture, Irish Traditions, Living in Ireland

18 responses to “Women’s Christmas, January 6 -An Irish Christmas Tradition

  1. My husband was astounded that a female newsreader on Newstalk today had never heard of it! My American self has invited my Candian friend out to the pub! It will be interesting to see the ratio of men to women, and the ages of the women present!

  2. I’ve not heard of the connection between Epiphany and women before. most interesting as is the fact that the old traditions are being revived.

  3. Living in Co Louth, I only knew of the tradition from reading ‘Peig’ at school.
    Then a friend went to live in Cork and told me that Nollaig na mBan was alive and well. I think it’s a great idea and hope it spreads around the country.
    Have just stumbled upon your blog via Foxglove Lane and will be back.

    • Hi Mairead. Thank you for visiting and indeed let’s hope that the rest of Ireland can tap into the wonderful celebration of Nollaig na mBán! Thank you for dropping by and do come again! I took a peek at your blog and it looks like it is right up my street! The best to you for 2013. Angela

  4. Discussing this here at home, in far off Australia last night, brought an unexpected bonus, I had dinner cooked for me. It may have had a little to do with the fact that I had been ‘tied’ to the computer almost the entire day and there were heard mutterings about ‘feed yourself’, but I like to think it was in celebration of Nollaig na mBán! This is an ancient tradition that really does have a place in modern life… thank you for telling us more about it.

  5. abby mcsherry

    there was a lovely Nollaig na mBan celebration afternoon in Cornamucklagh House near Omeath in co Louth on Sunday all teh money raised went to Downs Syndrome charities and a great time was had by everyone

    • That is a lovely thing to hear Abby. Had not heard of it being used to raise funds for Charity and isn’t Downs Syndrome such a worthy cause. Glad you enjoyed your Nollaig na mBán up there in Louth and I have enjoyed your comment. Thank you ! Angela

  6. My husband kept telling me that he was ‘meant to do whatever I didn’t want to do’ on little Christmas :) I asked him to help take the decorations off of the tree, a laborious process!

    • Delighted to know that he is ‘getting the message’ of Little Christmas and that you had the good sense to capitalize on this by asking him to help with taking down the decorations! Isn’t it wonderful to see an old tradition spreading across the nation again! Thanks so much for your comment – much appreciated. :)

  7. Fascinating! Really … And it may not be as fascinating to your Irish peers and co-writers. But for me, living in a very young country compared to your land, it is really something to hear about your history and your traditions. Hey, thanks for visiting my Wilder Man on Rolling Creek blog. I hope your Christmas was good, and … I hope you have a good transition into 2014. Peace, T

    • Hi there – Glad you enjoyed hearing about our Irish ways. One of the reasons I love blogging is how it introduces us to other cultures, views,and ideas that we might never know from reading books or living our lives in our own localities. Had a great Christmas here thank you and hoep it was all you needed it to be for you :) Looking forward to more of your posts in 2014 :)

  8. Cathal Mac Cárthaigh

    A very interesting and informative article. Being a native of West Cork, I had assumed that it (Nollaig na mBan) was “normal” until I travelled further afield. Two little quibbles: The appellation “Little Women’s Christmas” is not traditional; it started either as a joke ( a sort of play on Louisa May Alcott’s book “Little Women”.) or as a result of Marian Finucane consistently getting the names “Little Christmas” and “Women’s Christmas” confused on her radio programme. The second point is the spelling in Irish: It is Nollaig na mBan (not mBh or mBá)

    • Cathal. How interesting to hear that Nollag na mBan was part of your growing up. I have looked for the origins and the earliest I found was in the 1930s, but I would like to investigate further. To be honest I have not heard of Little Women’s Christmas – it should be Women’s Little Christmas and thank you for pointing out that there is no seimhiu on the ‘b’ in the earlier part of the post.
      Thank you for visiting!

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