Women’s Little Christmas – An Irish Tradition Worth Reviving


Ever heard of Women’s Little Christmas? If you haven’t, then you need to get on it!

By Nicole Buckler

Christmas is finished. The decorations have been dismantled and the Christmas Tree Throwing Competition is getting underway. The floors have been cleaned, uniforms are ready for the return to school. So what is left to do? Yes! It’s is time for Women’s Little Christmas!

This festival has been around for generations in Kerry and especially in Cork. Known in Irish as Nollaig na mBan, it harks from the days when women had very large families and spent all of their days looking after everyone on the domestic front, with not a day off in sight. After the hard (but pleasurable!) graft of Christmas, Nollaig na mBan would be kept aside as ladies day, to be spent with complete abandon. And by complete abandon, we mean drinking tea and eating tiny dainty cakes. And then moving onto a lovely forsaken chicken, roasted to perfection. Then some sipping sherry would be lashed out and that’s when it got good.


In previous times, even women with decent reputations could hang out at the pub, get rather drunk and sing songs with other women. This would happen on January 6th, when the men would take over the household chores and mind a massive bunch of children that were probably mostly their own. And it is not just an Irish festival: it has pockets of followers in Europe – in Slovenia, Galicia, and Ukraine.

Of course nowadays men help with the housework all the time and know how to fire up a vacuum cleaner and burn a risotto like any Irish woman. So the tradition has petered out somewhat but the time to revive it is now: it just needs to be morphed to fit a more modern world.

Traditionally, Nollaig na mBan would be held on the feast of the epiphany, the day baby Jesus got his slightly rubbish presents of gold and frankincense and myrrh. In 2016 however January 6 is when the Christmas tree gets mowed down and recycled, and the kids get ready to be turfed back into school.

In Cork the festival remains alive: many restaurants take bookings for tableloads of ladies and their friends and relatives for a lovely lunch with plenty of tea and wine. Most women hold parties or go out to celebrate the day with their friends, sisters, mothers, and aunts. Children often buy presents for their mothers and grandmothers. So while the men aren’t left at home anymore with 11 kids, trying to make the best of 3 loaves of bread and some porter cheese, it still should be celebrated just for the hell of it. Dad is fine at home with the kids (he will probably take them to a play centre and fill them with doughnuts) so it’s all good.

These days, some people still shove Catholic stuff into the celebration. It did, after all, start as a religious ceremony. Many women, especially in Cork, still say a prayer mid-celebration to St Brigid, the women’s saint of Ireland. They ask her to take their troubles of the past year and don’t give them back please. This is sometimes followed by a minute of silence, after which the women can go back to raucous partying.

Many would love to see this tradition spread across Ireland and be revived. And the men should be given a day too, of their own making. Maybe they can all hang out and mow the lawn together, while sipping a nice cider. Men? It’s up to you to catch up! Ladies, let’s do it!



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