“Nollaig na mBan,” or “Little Women’s Christmas,” is an old custom that’s still celebrated by women all over Ireland. It goes back to the days when large families were the norm. Men never lifted a finger in the house to help, and were never expected to. If a man washed the dishes, he would be called an “auld woman” by other men. No full-blooded Irish man was prepared to risk that!
But each year, after the Christmas holiday, tired women finally got a break – for one day, at least. On January 6th (the same day as the Epiphany), men would take over of the housework, offering women a chance to go out to relax with each other
The 6th of January, or the Feast of the Epiphany, commemorates the arrival of the three Kings, or Wise Men, at the Nativity crib. It is the final day of Christmas in Ireland and is the time when all seasonal decorations have to be taken down. Failure to do so results in bad luck, so the superstition goes, unless you leave them up for a full 12 months!
This day is also known as "Little Christmas" in Ireland -- in Irish, “Nollaig na mBan,” i.e., "Women's Christmas." Traditionally, the woman of the house was given a day off after the 12 days of cooking and acting the hostess. Instead, the men would take over family responsibilities while the women went out with their friends. It was probably the only day of the year when the local bar would be full of women rather than men.
Ladies On Guinness
During my childhood, I remember excited, shawled women hurrying to the local public house. On Little Women’s Christmas, they would inhabit this man’s domain without shame. Sitting in “the snug,” a small private room inside the front door, they would pool the few shillings they’d saved for the day. Then they would drink stout and dine on thick corned beef sandwiches provided by the publican. For the rest of the year, the only time respectable women would meet for a glass of stout would be during shopping hours, and then only because it was “good for iron in the blood.”
After an initial chat about the worries and cares of the old year, a pact would be made to leave them outside the door (something that was easier to do before the advent of cell phones). For the day, they’d be as free as the birds in the sky – and well on into the evening. Late at night, with shawls dropped over their shoulders, words slurred and voices hoarse, they would always sing.