Women’s Little Christmas is known by several names in Ireland including the Irish Nollaig na mBan, The Feast of Epiphany and the Twelfth Night.
It’s one of the more unique Christmas traditions in Ireland, and it takes place on January 6th, officially marking the end of the Christmas celebrations.
Below, you’ll discover everything from what happens on Nollaig na mBan to how it’s celebrated in 2023/2024.
Some quick need-to-knows about Women’s Little Christmas
Before we dive into the history of Women’s Little Christmas, here’s some quick info to get you up-to-speed:
1. When is it?
Nollaig na mBan is always held on January 6th which is the twelfth day of Christmas (counting from Christmas Day on December 25th). January 6th is also traditionally celebrated as the Feast of Epiphany or Three Kings Day, when the wise men followed the star and brought their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh to the newborn king.
2. What’s it all about?
Back in the day, housework in many homes in Ireland would have been exclusively done by the women of the household. Women’s Little Christmas was traditionally a day when the men were tasked with all of the chores and the women got together and enjoyed a well earned day out.
3. Where it originated
Nollaig na mBan originated in Ireland and the tradition is particularly strong in parts of Cork and Kerry. In other countries, Women’s Day may have different meanings and other dates but for the Irish it was, and still is for many, a day when women indulge in a day off with female family and friends.
4. How to say happy Little Women’s Christmas in Irish
In Irish, we say, ‘Nollaig na mBan shona daoibh’. This is pronounced ‘Null-ug-na-Mon son-ah jeeve’.
The story behind Nollaig na mBan
There are many traditions associated with January 6th, the last day of Christmas, but in Ireland it is known as Women’s Little Christmas, Little Christmas or Nollaig na mBan.
It became popular as traditionally the women of the household would have worked flat out in the lead up to the big, preparing the various Irish Christmas foods, cleaning the house, buying and wrapping gifts.
At the end of the 12 days of Christmas, they claimed a well-earned day off.
How it is/was celebrated changes depending on location
Nollaig na mBan is celebrated in some parts of the country more than others and there are often different traditions depending on the family.
On January 6th, housewives hung up their aprons and headed out with female family and friends to celebrate a day of chill time while the men looked after the chores.
They may have gathered in each others’ homes or for a drink in a pub. The traditional meat served on Women’s Little Christmas was goose.
It is considered unlucky to take down the decorations before or after the Twelfth Night, a custom still practised today in Ireland.
Holly decorations were retained and burnt on the fire on Shrove Tuesday when pancakes are traditionally cooked and served before Lent.
Other Little Christmas traditions include sweeping the floor and having a bucket of clean water ready on the night of January 6th as a symbol marking the end of Christmas and a fresh start to the new year.
On the eve of Women’s Day, 12 candles would be lit by different members of the family. They were placed in the window. The first candle to go out would indicate that the person who lit it would be the first person to die!
Women’s Day 21st century style
By the mid-20th century the tradition of Women’s Little Christmas had largely died out but it has since enjoyed a revival by women across the land.
Hotels, spas and restaurants put on special Women’s Day events including spa days, afternoon tea and evening meals for groups of ladies with a bottle of bubbly thrown in.
Although Women’s Day shows that in the past, “a woman’s place was in the home”, it also recognises that women are the backbone of many families, especially during Christmas in Ireland.
FAQs about Women’s Little Christmas
We’ve had a lot of questions over the years since chatting about Nollaig na mBan in our Irish traditions guide.
In the section below, we’ve popped in the most FAQs that we’ve received. If you have a question that we haven’t tackled, ask away in the comments section below.
When is Nollaig na mBan 2024?
Nollaig na mBan 2024 takes place on Saturday, January 6th 2024.
What is the meaning of Nollaig na mBan?
Nollaig na mBan is Women’s Little Christmas – a day when the men of the household traditionally took over the various chores and the women enjoyed a well earned break.
How do you celebrate Nollaig na mBan?
This varies depending on location and family, but many groups of friends and family no arrange to meet for food and/or drinks. You can celebrate it however you like.
Why is the 6th of January called Little Christmas?
January in 6th is traditionally the end of Christmas in Ireland and it’s then that the decorations are taken down.