Nollaig na mBan: The History of Women’s Christmas in Ireland

January 6th each year marks Nollaig na mBan (Little Christmas or Women’s Christmas). But do you know the history of Women’s Christmas in Ireland? This day is a long-established tradition to acknowledge the women who did most of the work in the home during the holidays.

On this day, back in the day, the roles were reversed, and women traditionally got much-needed rest after catering to everyone during the Christmas period.

For Christians, January 6th is The Feast of the Epiphany which celebrates the manifestation of the song of god on earth. It also is a key date which marks the end of the 12 days of Christmas, hence “Little Christmas”.

The History of Women's Christmas in Ireland

Until 2013, this date was also the last day of the Christmas holidays for primary and secondary schools in Ireland.

The History of Women’s Christmas in Ireland

In Ireland, this is also the day that Christmas decorations should be taken down (not before or after) or else one risks bad luck for the rest of the year. The custom was on this day, women made calls to their friends and enjoyed tea and last of the Christmas cake.

Though it’s worth noting that this has been acknowledged as somewhat unfair due to men being able to enjoy the finest of treats during Christmas without housework throughout the season.

A recital of the poem “Oíche Nollaig na mBan” by Seán Ó Riordáin (Texts to the poem below)

Holly was the only decoration which would be left up in the house, which was retained until Shrove Tuesday where it would be burned on the fire and used for cooking pancakes.

This seasonal tradition is most well known in rural communities such as counties Kerry and Cork. While it’s not as prolific as it once in the traditional sense, there’s somewhat of a revival going on in recent years with things like ladies’ days out, special afternoon teas served with prosecco!

Oíche Nollaig na mBan (Seán Ó Riordáin)

Bhí fuinneamh sa stoirm a éalaigh aréir
Aréir Oíche Nollaig na mBan,
As gealt-teach iargúlta atá laistiar den ré
Is do scréach tríd an spéir chughainn ‘na gealt,
Gur ghíosc geataí comharsan mar ghogallach gé,
Gur bhúir abhainn shlaghdánach mar tharbh,
Gur múchadh mo choinneal mar bhuille ar mo bhéal
A las ‘na splanc obann an fhearg.

Ba mhaith liom go dtiocfadh an stoirm sin féin
An oíche go mbeadsa go lag
Ag filleadh abhaile ó rince an tsaoil
Is solas an pheaca ag dul as:
Go líonfaí gach neomat le liúraigh ón spéir,
Go ndéanfaí den domhan scuaine scread,
Is ná cloisfinn an ciúnas ag gluaiseacht fám dhéin,
Ná inneall an ghluaisteáin ag stad.

Did you know about the history of Women’s Christmas in Ireland or of Seán Ó Riordáin’s beautiful poem? Let me know in the comments below.

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I'm a freelance content creator, author, and journalist who has a strong desire to share useful content about Irish people and things about Ireland at home and abroad. I am constantly curious.

Comments

  1. Maria McKenna says:

    Thanks Una-Minh,

    I just found this beautiful page today and have subscribed.
    In my zoom call with my sisters last weekend we spoke about Nollaig na Mban.
    Thanks for sharing the Seán Ó Ríordáin poem… wonderful recital.
    Thanks for your meaningful work in promoting the Irish language and cultúr.

    Best wishes for 2021.

    Maria

    1. Una-Minh Kavanagh says:

      You’re very welcome Maria – thank you for taking the time out to read. The poem is really beautiful so delighted you found solas in it too. Take care! Úna-Minh.

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