January 6, the Feast of the Epiphany, is the day the Christmas decorations traditionally come down. The 12 days of Christmas are over and done with and thoughts have turned to New Year's Resolutions. But in Ireland January 6 means something else as well, an old tradition that marks the last day of celebrations.
The day is known as Nollaig na mBan, Women's Christmas. It's also called Little Christmas or Women's Little Christmas depending on where you're from. This is the day when all the women, who had shouldered the bulk of the Christmas cooking and preparations, got the chance to relax.
Traditionally this involved getting together with female friends and family members while the men took over the cooking, cleaning and child care for the day. This was a day when the women would spend money they'd made selling turkeys at market or from selling eggs throughout the year.
It was never a lavish celebration but simple, intimate. The women would enjoy cakes and wine and a customary Little Christmas dinner was roast chicken. In some parts of the country the day was also known as "Nollaig gan mhaith" or no good Christmas by reluctant men.
The tradition was always very much a country one and most popular in Cork, Kerry and along the west coast of Ireland with many pubs in those areas still reporting a mainly female clientele that day. It was passed down verbally through female members of the family and there was little written about it although in 1870 the Dublin Evening Post reported hundreds of women attending a temperance pledge in Cork. The priest conducting the ceremony spoke glowingly of this responsible way of marking the day.
Dublin Evening Post - 8 January 1870© THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
In recent years, the day has grown in popularity and become a celebration of sisterhood and friendship. Various cultural events celebrating women writers, artists or musicians take place across the country.