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An Irish Women's Christmas

January 6th is the feast of the Epiphany and in Ireland it is also Nollaig na mBan. 

Memories made at Christmas start to fade into tired limbs. The weeks of preparation; squeezing one more errand into everyday. Check another thing off the todo list: stop by one more store, shop just a bit more for that surprise gift. Society shifts mean house duties are shared more equally now, though it could be fair to say many women of Ireland work hard to make the holidays extra special.

This distraction is welcomed on these dark nights in Ireland. During the week after Christmas we fill up the darkness with fairy lights and warm fires, cheerful gatherings and cozy cardigans. Then New Year blasts off with Hogmanay celebrations in nearby Scotland, and a music festival held in Dublin’s Collins Barracks at the NYF Dublin. 

Happy New Year from Dublin
New Year Festival NYFDublin

The first week in January can be hard for some as the excitement winds down. While setting new intentions and resolutions we contemplate and are grateful for all the blessings. The oversized stockings are packed back up with all the seasonal trinkets and boxes recycled. The 12th day of Christmas passes on January 5th, which means the decorations need to be packed up before January 7th, and any bad luck sets in!

January 6th is traditionally marked by the women of Ireland as a time to go out and enjoy a meal together. In an attempt at role reversal in the past the men stay at home and handle the chores, while the women let off steam and diffuse the stresses of the season. On this night three candles were lit for the completion of Christmas festivities. Legend has it that all the wells In Ireland transform into wine, though it is bad luck to go out and try it.

Most of the country forgot to adhere to this custom for some time, but somehow in the Southeast it was still heard to happen in the rowdy rebel county of Cork and also in Kerry. This tradition was still going strong where pubs and restaurants were usually full of generations of families gathering on this evening to celebrate in a less inhibited way. 

Women enjoying a private tour of Ireland

There has been a resurgence in attention nationally to mark the feast day of Nollaig na mBan. Events are now held to mark this annual tradition by showcasing the extraordinary achievements of women. Special guests are invited to perform and speak at the Irish Writers Centre with new pieces of work commissioned specially for Nollaig na mBan 2024. Participating writers include novelist Christine Dwyer Hickey, short story writer and novelist Jan Carson, poet Nessa O’Mahony, and broadcaster, Gaeilgeoir, writer and producer Ola Majekodunmi. Dublin City Council supports a sold out show for Nollaig na mBan featuring the impressive talented musicians Mary Coughlan and Maria Doyle Kennedy.

Nowadays we see a visible shifts in decor from red and green to pink, making it an evening for those who want to have more fun. As pink parties pop up across the country with gala events at venues and hotels offering dinner and dancing along to one of many tribute acts.

It's time for all the busy family hosts, and those caring for little ones who are simply too busy to see their own best friends to reach out and sneak in a little late Christmas cheer before another year runs away with us again. Some take time for wellness spa breaks, yoga and self care, or for a treat of afternoon tea in elegant rooms. Other groups get together for a post Christmas sea swim, or walk and talk.

The Epiphany is known in many places as Little Christmas when children in Italy and Spain receive festive gifts. Before Mother’s Day was a bigger celebration, this was also the time for Irish children to show appreciation for their Irish mothers with a gift, just as the Magi arrived with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. A Claddagh ring is often handed down the maternal line, a symbol of friendship, love and loyalty. Hint, hint...

Irish folklore scholar Kevin Danaher mentioned the date in his 1970s book “The Year in Ireland: A Calendar,” when he suggested that the name "Women's Christmas" is explained by the assertion that “Christmas Day was marked by beef, whiskey, and men's fare, while on ‘Little Christmas Day’ the dainties preferred by women — cake, tea and wine — were more in evidence." It became a day for women “to go visiting in the afternoon, eat a slice of currant loaf, have a cup of tea, a chat, and a well-deserved rest.”

In general, it is accepted that on this day the women of Ireland should put their feet up, and take some time to connect, relax and restore. Perhaps with a visit to their friend to eat the last of the Christmas pudding. Still wondering why their friends always taste so different despite using a similar recipe. A time to come together and celebrate our uniqueness.

On national radio in 2021 Morning Ireland's Mary Wilson spoke to Dr. Marion McGuire and a druid from Dingle, Julí Malone / Ní Mhaoileóin about their plans. Dr. Marion looks forward to a video chat with friends with a cup of tea and Christmas cake. While Julí will take a walk in nature ready for new beginnings after cleansing the house. National television RTÉ Archives host a broadcast Nationwide presented by Flor MacCarthy, that brings us to the Dingle peninsula in 1997 as Tom McGuire reports on how Nollaig na mBan was celebrated.

On this Epiphany consider how you would like to mark it. Celebrate your Irish Women’s Christmas. Treat yourself, put your feet up, meet some friends, and maybe make some plans to have more adventures. (Perhaps even consider a private tour of Ireland. Close your eyes and picture yourself in a luxurious castle after a fresh excursion on wild landscapes.) 

Whatever you do, tap yourself on the back for getting through the festive period, let your hair down and just be!   

Womens tour of Ireland


Discover this tradition and many more with your own customised tour of the Island with Little Gem. Your local driver guides will bring the island, its customs and traditions alive, whilst you enjoy the comfort of luxury private tour transport.


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