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Little Christmas 2021: Customs and Celebrations of Nollaig na mBan

Updated: a day ago

The twelfth and final day of Christmas, January 6th, has been known in Ireland as Nollaig na mBan translated to “Women’s Christmas”. As a reward for their hard work over the Christmas season, it was a day off from all housework for women, and traditional roles were reversed so that men took care of the household. Women would gather in homes of their friends and neighbours and enjoyed tea and the last of the Christmas cake.

Traditional Customs

There were a number of customs around Little Christmas. In some parts of the country, mothers would rub the tail of a herring across the eyelids of their children to protect them from diseases for the year ahead. It was also believed that the floor should be swept and a bucket of clean water was prepared before going to bed that night. Another curious belief was that well water would turn from water to wine at midnight in Ireland on Little Christmas.

Modern Meaning

In modern Ireland, where housework is generally more equally divided, Nollaig na mBan has become more of a celebration and acknowledgment of women’s contribution to all our lives. We can use this day as an opportunity to celebrate the extraordinary mothers, daughters, carers, and leaders, and to call out the changes needed now in order to achieve greater gender equality. Women’s groups often mark the day with charitable events or donations to help those in need.

Little Christmas 2021

While sadly this year we can’t socialise with friends or family, we’re recognising, valuing, and toasting all the important women in our lives. Most especially our fellow women who are isolated and fearful, frontline heroines who are weary, the homeless, the carers, the abused, and the vulnerable.

Happy Nollaig na mBan!

Photo: George Marks/Getty Images

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