Through Kerri ní Dochartaigh’s newsletter, Scéal I discovered the tradition of Nollaig na mBan, or Women’s Christmas. Set on January 6th (also see: Twelfth Night, Little Christmas & Epiphany) it is a day where women and men reverse roles: the women go to the pub or have parties with each other for a day and the men take care of chores. It seems to be the most popular in counties Cork and Kerry. I love this excerpt from Irish Central:
Speaking to the Times, Irish scholar Alan Titley remarked that the tradition was most common in the west of Ireland in a litany of different ways. “Most women in west Kerry would have raised five or six turkeys for sale at the Christmas market,” he said. “They kept the money – like egg money – and if there was anything left over after Christmas, they spent it on themselves.”
A common phrase was “Nollaig na mBan, Nollaig gan mhaith” (“Women’s Christmas, no good Christmas”), referring to the lack of plentiful feasts by the time January 6 came around.
Siobhan Fahy, from Ballyferriter on the Dingle Peninsula, told The Irish Times: “But us women would go visiting that afternoon. It was a very simple celebration, just eating a slice of currant loaf in someone’s house and having a cup of tea and a chat, but that was the day you’d do something for yourself and have a rest after all the Christmas work.”
I just find these little traditions so charming because in our modern world we often don’t give thanks in this way, or even have many days to slow down. In fact, it’s been estimated that the Medieval peasant received 8 weeks to half a year off for feast days, a far cry than the 10 days most people in North America are allotted. Clearly, no one would prefer to be a Medieval peasant but I love the idea of incorporating these little regional traditions into the chaos of everyday life.
If you can get a hold of a copy, I also adore Mrs. Sharp’s Traditions. It’s a (US-centric) fictional book on Victorian activities for families to celebrate the seasons and holidays throughout the year.