“There was power in the storm that escaped last night,
last night on Women’s Christmas,”
From the poem ‘Oíche Nollaig na mBan’ by SEAN O RIORDAIN
Women across Ireland will be celebrating the end of the festive season with ‘Women’s Christmas’ or “Nollaig na mBan” on the 6th of January. From meeting with friends to passing off chores to the men of the household, there are many ways to celebrate this tradition. In this post we look at the history of Nollaig na mBan, and how you can celebrate wherever you are!
What is Women’s Christmas?
Often referred to as ‘Little Christmas’ this day is traditionally celebrated as Three Kings’ Day or the Feast of the Epiphany. This date denotes the visit of the three wise men to Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus in Bethlehem.
However, in Ireland the 6th of January is the date where Christmas decorations come down, marking the end of the festive season. It is considered bad luck to take decorations down before or after this date. In the past, holly wreaths would be taken down on this day and burned.
How is Women’s Christmas Celebrated?
Lighting of Candles
The night before Women’s Christmas, Oíche Nollaig na mBan, twelve candle would be lit in the window. In some regions, each candle would lit by a different person and it was said that the first candle to go out was lit by the person who would be the first to die.
Going to the Pub
On this day, women are relieved of household tasks and often head to a local pub to, in the words of Irish writer and actress Sheila Fitton, “inhabit this man’s domain without shame”.
Giving the Chores to the Men
In times gone by in Ireland, there was no denying the fact that a woman’s place was in the home. This may now seem completely strange to Ireland’s accomplished and well-educated women today, but this holiday serves as a reminder of the strength of Irish mothers, grandmothers, sisters, aunts and girlfriends.
In modern Ireland, household chores are thankfully shared more equally, however women’s Christmas is still used to to relax and catch up with friends after a busy festive season. In 1998, the Irish Times joked that although God rested on the seventh day, women didn’t stop until the twelfth!
Spending Time with Friends
Nowadays, Women’s Christmas is simply a time to catch up with friends after a busy festive season.
Siobhan Fahy from Ballyferriter on the Dingle peninsula told the Irish Times:
"But us women would go visiting that afternoon. It was a very simple celebration, just eating a slice of currant loaf in someone's house and having a cup of tea and a chat, but that was the day you'd do something for yourself and have a rest after all the Christmas work,"
Having a Meal Prepared by the Men
Many families today celebrate Women's Christmas very simply by having the men of the house prepare a meal for the women. Whilst this may not be an unusual event in most modern Irish homes, it is still a nice way to acknowledge the tradition.
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