Today is Women’s Little Christmas, a day when Irish women are traditionally spoiled by the men in their lives. Known in Irish as Nollaig na mBan, it is celebrated on the twelfth and last day of Christmas, coinciding with the feast of the Epiphany, January 6th.
The three kings visited Jesus in the stable with gifts. In olden times the men of Ireland commemorated this gift giving by bestowing upon their wives the greatest gift of all, a day free from house work. By assuming all household chores and preparing a big meal for the women of the house, men recognized their wives and daughters for their tireless work over the Christmas season. Children would buy or make gifts for their mothers on this day, but this gift-giving ritual is now more common on Mother’s Day.
The tradition of Nollaig na mBan is dying out in many parts of Ireland, and was strongest in years gone by in the southwest counties of Cork and Kerry. I may have been born in Dublin, but with both my parents hailing from County Cork, the tradition of Nollaig na mBan was well known in our house when I was growing up. With three daughters and no sons, my father was a busy man.
Counties Cork and Kerry are the main areas where this custom is still adhered to. Many women go out with their girl friends for a meal, a chat and a little post-Christmas get-together, leaving their men at home to their own devices. I pray this tradition never dies away completely. Since Nollaig na mBan falls on a Sunday this year, I bet the restaurants and bars of Cork will be filled with women today.
When I married my Donegal husband he had never even heard of the custom. It didn’t take me long to inform him of all the details – especially the piece about not needing to cook on this special day.
I often heard the day referred to as “Little Women’s Christmas”, not the more traditional title of “Women’s Little Christmas.” I think the former is a typical Cork expression. When I was a little girl I was never quite sure if the word ‘little’ was referring to Christmas or the women. I worried my poor mother might be too tall to be included.
So tall or short, I hope all the women of Ireland, America and the world are treated like royalty today. May all the overworked women of the world go ahead, and put their feet up for a well deserved rest. I know that’s my plan for the day.
Wishing you all a very happy Women’s Little Christmas.
Slán agus beannacht,
(Goodbye and blessings)
Irish American Mom
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