You may know today as the Epiphany, Three Kings Day, Star Night, Dia de Reyes or Twelfth Night. However, in Ireland today is Nollaig na mBan, also called Women’s Christmas or Little Christmas. This tradition, celebrated on 6th January, originally came from Cork and Kerry in SouthWest Ireland and the Gaeltacht areas in Galway. On this, the twelfth day of Christmas, women were historically given a break from cooking and housework and instead visited their friends for tea and the last of the Christmas cake!
There were several other traditions that went along with Nollaig na mBan, including:
- It was unlucky to take the Christmas tree down before the 6th of January, a custom still adhered to by many in Ireland
- Women would light twelve candles in the windows of their homes which represented the twelve days of Christmas. People often lit candles together and it was believed that the person who lit the first candle to burn out would be the first person to die.
- In West Kerry it was common for women to raise half a dozen turkeys and sell them at the Christmas market to pay for provisions, and if there was anything left over after Christmas, they would spend it on themselves come January 6.
- On this day in some parts of the country, mothers rubbed the tail of a herring across the eyes of their children to give immunity against disease for the rest of the year.
- It was also believed that one should have the floor swept and have a bucket of clean water ready before going to bed that night, and that the water from that bucket should never be used in the morning.
- Many also thought that all the well water in Ireland turned into wine at midnight for Women’s Christmas. This belief was never proven as it was deemed bad luck to see if it was true.
Until recently, the tradition had almost died out but has been revived through social media and hotels and restaurants offering afternoon teas and prosecco to mark the occasion.
There are also a number of other events held around Ireland today in light of Nollaig na mBan. One is Snámn4Mná, which sees women around the country take a dip in the sea and donate to Women’s Aid, a local women’s refuge, or SAFE Ireland. This event, being used to raise awareness for women experiencing domestic violence or coercive control, is led by journalist Dearbhaill MacDonald.
Since the outbreak of COVID19, there has been a spike in reports of violence against women. Domestic violence against women is considered the shadow pandemic. In Ireland alone, Women’s Aid saw a 43% increase in demand for its services in 2020 compared to 2019.
The research team at ICEP have been part of the SAFER team, developing a range of resources to equip educators with the skills and knowledge to identify, recognise, prevent, and respond to gender-based violence and to foster more inclusive and safe classroom environments. Find out more at https://www.saferlearning.eu/.