You might know the 6th of January as the Feast of the Epiphany or the day of arrival of the Magi – the Three Wise Men – at the crib in Bethlehem. It is also called Little Christmas as it falls twelve days after Christmas Day, and in parts of Ireland, it is celebrated as Nollaig na mBan or Women’s Christmas.

The tradition of celebrating Nollaig na mBan is particularly associated with the West of Ireland and it seems to have originated as a reward for all of the hard work by women of doing the cooking, cleaning and organising of Christmas festivities. 

On that day men took over the housework and allowed women time off to put their feet up and rest, or to visit other women and share in a small celebration of wine and treats – although the main ingredient was always talk! Throughout the year women sold eggs and used some of the egg money to buy turkeys which they reared and sold at Christmas, as this poem by Moya Roddy describes. Whatever was left over from this money after the expense of Christmas could be spent as the women saw fit, including using it to buy things for their own celebration on January 6th. The tradition of Nollaig na mBan allowed women some economic independence in a time when women did not have a lot of agency. 

Even today, women can be said to draw the short straw at Christmas, often having the responsibility for shopping, cooking, buying presents and looking after the family during the festive season, so any time out is precious.

Nollaig na mBan has been revived over the last number of years with more and more women celebrating it. It has also moved from being a rural event to an urban one too. As housework is more evenly divided these days, the tradition is now seen more as a celebration of friendship and sisterhood, a time of solidarity and warmth. 

So why not take the time this year on January 6th to visit with your female friends, relatives or neighbours or plan a get-together and celebrate the power and potential of female kinship? 

A very happy Women’s Christmas or Nollaig na mBan to you!


Photo by Piqsels


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