The twelfth day after Christmas Day, 6th January, traditionally celebrated as the Feast of the Epiphany, was known in Ireland as Nollaig na mBan (Women’s Christmas). It was also known in parts of Ireland as Little Christmas. Tradition held that on this day roles were reversed in the home: men did the women’s work in the house while women rested and gathered together socially. The practise was stronger in rural areas, and in the Cork and Kerry areas of Ireland, with some in other regions professing to have never heard of the holiday.
From the mid twentieth century Nollaig na mBan died out but is slowly undergoing a revival. Hotels and restaurants are advertising ladies’ days and evenings out for the occasion, many featuring revivals of taking ‘afternoon tea’. The Herstory Project has chosen the date for their 2017 light projection festival which aims to highlight ‘ordinary women who did the extraordinary’, but who were forgotten by history.
The twelfth day of Christmas is noted in Ireland as the day before which it is considered unlucky to take down the Christmas tree and decorations. The date was also marked in history as the ‘Night of the Big Wind’ ( ‘Oiche na Gaoithe Moire’) in 1839 when a devastating hurricane hit Ireland leaving an estimated 100 dead and thousands homeless with mass structural damage throughout the country. It is cited as a reason that many Irish houses and cottages were from then were built in areas sheltered from the wind.
A notable literary association with this day is that James Joyce set the short story The Dead (1914) on the feast of the Epiphany in Dublin. It is said to be the greatest short story of modern English literature. If you consider Joyce’s work daunting, just reading the last paragraph alone will invoke the beautiful sense of peace one can have at Christmas, and reading it would be a fitting end to the festive season and a nod to the fresh beginnings of the New Year.
From The Dead by James Joyce:
A few light taps upon the pane made him turn to the window. It had begun to snow again. He watched sleepily the flakes, silver and dark, falling obliquely against the lamplight. The time had come for him to set out on his journey westward. Yes, the newspapers were right: snow was general all over Ireland. It was falling on every part of the dark central plain, on the treeless hills, falling softly upon the Bog of Allen and, farther westward, softly falling into the dark mutinous Shannon waves. It was falling, too, upon every part of the lonely churchyard on the hill where Michael Furey lay buried. It lay thickly drifted on the crooked crosses and headstones, on the spears of the little gate, on the barren thorns. His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead.
For more on the hurricane of 6th January 1839 see this article by Bridget Haggerty http://www.irishcultureandcustoms.com/ACalend/BigWind.html
The Dead by James Joyce. The full piece is available here http://www.online-literature.com/james_joyce/958/?utm_content=buffer64a88&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter.com&utm_campaign=buffer
More on Herstory: http://www.herstory.ie/home/
Photograph of players in stage adaptation of The Dead by the Abbey Theatre, Dublin.