Nollaig na mBan and The Dead
Published on 6th January 2021
Christmas doesn’t finish until midnight tonight, and the tradition in Ireland is that today is a day for women to indulge and celebrate, and even for some, to be waited on by their men.
In a 1998 article by the Irish Times, the author wrote: "God rested on the seventh day, but women didn't rest until the twelfth day of Christmas."
The twelfth and final day of Christmas, January 6th, is known in Ireland as Nollaig na mBan or Women’s Christmas or Little Christmas. Goose was the traditional meat served on Women's Christmas.
The custom was that women made social calls to the homes of their friends and neighbours and enjoyed tea and the last of the Christmas cake.
We’re not the only ones with a celebration today. It is Epiphany, the day when the wise men arrive at the manger. In Ireland and Puerto Rico, it is the traditional day to remove the Christmas tree and decorations.
Nollaig na mBan is back in vogue with hotels and restaurants advertising ladies’ afternoon teas and evenings out, accompanied by a glass of prosecco. The Irish Writers' Centre run an annual event.
Women’s Christmas was also associated with the Irish death divination customs that were practised at Halloween. One tradition is that a "cake" of mud or clay was made and candles named for the family members in the house was placed into it.
The order in which the candles burned out indicated the order in which the owners of those candles would die.
James Joyce’s short story The Dead from Dubliners (1914) takes place on the Epiphany. Joyce featured the Halloween death divination custom (known as "ask the saucers") in his short story Clay in the same collection.
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