Epiphany is celebrated by Christians around the world on the 6th January, marking the visit of the three wise men bringing gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. There was an old Irish belief that when Christmas came to an end at midnight on Nollaig na mBan, well water briefly turned to wine, rushes turned to silk and sandstone turned to gold!
In Ireland the 6t° of January is also called Nollaig na mBan or Women’s Christmas. Traditionally this was the day when women got together and had their own little Christmas free from all the households jobs which allegedly were taken over by the men.
The UCC historian Alan Titley believes that the earnings made by the women who reared a few turkeys for Christmas would have been used to buy the extra things for Christmas for the family and that they spent any leftover cash on themselves on Nollaig na mBan.
The Nollaig na mBan tradition of women getting together is still very strong in parts of the country. I found this out many years ago when staying with friends in Cork. We happily set out from Crosshaven into the city to have a meal. lt was a Monday night so we hadn’t thought it was necessary to book. Every single restaurant was full and there wasn’t a man to be seen in any of them! We headed back out to find the same situation in Carrigaline and Crosshaven.
In the past respectable women would not go into a pub, except perhaps for a glass of stout during the day when they were in town shopping , as it was believed that stout was a good way of getting iron. But my Cork relatives tell me that on the night of Nollaig na mBan women would gather in the snug of a bar and drink stout and eat thick corn beef sandwiches.
The Nollaig na mBan tradition of women getting together has spread in more recent years. Women gather in restaurants and hotels and comfortable lounges for high end meals and the battle of wine has replaced the bottle of stout.
am delighted to hear that many ICA guilds celebrate Nollaig na mBan.
ICA needs to continue this tradition all around the country.
We won’t be able to go for our night out this year but let’s wish each other
Nollaig na mBan shona.