The 6th of January is Women’s Christmas in Ireland.
Ireland traditionally observed the full 12 days of Christmas, and the saying was that while God might have rested on the 7th day, women didn’t get to rest until the 12th (the 12th day of Christmas, that is, which is the 6th of January.)
It is a unique Irish ritual, and mostly an informal tradition. Woman got a break from the hard work of all the holidays just past. They would socialize with each other, and make social calls to a neighbour’s house. On these visits, they’d finish off the last of the Christmas treats before they got too stale. It would be mostly morning or afternoon get-togethers for a slice of cake and a cup of tea.
After all the frenzy of the holiday season, it gave them a few hours peace away from family obligations. Men were supposed to do any needed household work to make sure the women had the day, or at least a few hours, free.
Women were the ones who had spent all year saving up money for Christmas festivities, and if there were a few pence still left, they’d be able to spend it on a final treat, this time for themselves, on this day. In some parts of Ireland, groups of women in pubs and restaurants are common on this day. Some women will meet for breakfast or lunch together in a hotel or restaurant.
Children give their mothers a small gift on this day.
Other customs on this day have included:
- rubbing a herring tail on children’s eyes to protect them from disease the rest of the year;
- before going to bed that day, having the floor swept and a bucket of clean water sitting;
- taking down all the Christmas decorations save for the holly.
Women’s Christmas has been more of a rural, Gaeltacht (“Irish speaking areas”) custom. In Cork, most of the customers in pubs will be women on this day.
“Women’s Christmas was well known in some areas, such as in Cork and Kerry, with some in other regions professing to have never heard of it. By the mid 20th century, the tradition of Nollaig na mBan (Women’s Christmas) had largely died out, but is slowly undergoing a revival. Hotels and restaurants are advertising ladies’ afternoon teas and evenings out for the occasion, with the odd glass of prosecco thrown in for good measure. It is a tradition worth reviving as, in the past, the fact that women did the majority of work in the home was acknowledged by Women’s Christmas.” McGarry, Marion. The roots and traditions of Nollaig na mBan. Dublin, Ireland: Raidió Teilifís Éireann. 6 January 2021. Accessed February 2021 at https://www.rte.ie/brainstorm/2020/0102/1103975-the-roots-and-traditions-of-nollaig-na-mban/
The day may be experiencing a comeback, though it is being reinterpreted for the 2000s:
“Certainly it seems that women have reinterpreted the day as the years have passed. The work of preparing for Christmas nowadays is not always carried out only by women, and Women’s Little Christmas is now being marked around the country for different reasons: it has become more a celebration of friendship and sisterhood, rather than a customary break from a long period of hard work.” On the woman’s day of Christmas. Dublin, Ireland.: The Irish Times. 6 January 1998. Accessed February 2021 at https://www.irishtimes.com/culture/on-the-woman-s-day-of-christmas-1.121479
For today, events could be organized to celebrate women’s contributions to the community, business, politics, healthcare, etc.
In Irish, the tradition is called Nollaig na mBan (or “Nollaig na mBean“) (Women’s Christmas).
Muldoon, Molly. Nollaig na mBan – Women’s Christmas is celebrated in Ireland today! Irish Central. 6 January 2021. Accessed February 2021 at https://www.irishcentral.com/roots/womens-christmas-nollaig-na-mban-celebrate-ireland
|↑1||McGarry, Marion. The roots and traditions of Nollaig na mBan. Dublin, Ireland: Raidió Teilifís Éireann. 6 January 2021. Accessed February 2021 at https://www.rte.ie/brainstorm/2020/0102/1103975-the-roots-and-traditions-of-nollaig-na-mban/|
|↑2||On the woman’s day of Christmas. Dublin, Ireland.: The Irish Times. 6 January 1998. Accessed February 2021 at https://www.irishtimes.com/culture/on-the-woman-s-day-of-christmas-1.121479|