For people who love the Christmas season, any excuse to extend the merriment is a good one. Celebrating Little Christmas is one way to keep the festivities going longer. Celebrated in Ireland on January 6th, Little Christmas has historically been a holiday enjoyed by Irish women who needed a break after weeks of Christmas-related labor.
January 6th is also celebrated as twelfth night, Epiphany or Three Kings Day, and the end of the Christmas season in other cultures and traditions, but the celebrations and history are different than those of Ireland's Little Christmas.
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Today, women around the world can join in on this celebration at the end of the holiday season. But... what is Little Christmas, exactly? And how can you celebrate it?
What is Little Christmas?
In traditional Irish households, where women did most (if not all) of the housework and child-rearing, women would be exhausted by the end of the long Christmas season. So on January 6th, women's Little Christmas was celebrated.
It's also known as Nollaig na mBan in Irish, which translates to "Women's Christmas."
On this day, women were supposed to be able to take a break from all their household work and actually enjoy some time off to spend with their female friends and relatives. Either the men would have to take over the cooking and chores, or they just wouldn't get done for one day.
Little Christmas isn't universally observed in Ireland these days, though it remains more popular in counties Cork and Kerry than in other parts of the country. The traditional celebration largely died out by the mid-20th century, perhaps because women had begun to work outside the household. Still, Nollaig na mBan isn't dead. It's just an optional celebration that women may take part in if they want to.
Think of it sort of like "Galentine's Day," an unofficial holiday that many American women celebrate with their female friends on February 13th.
Interestingly, Little Christmas also happens to be the day when Irish families generally take down and put away their Christmas decorations. Considering how much work that can be, women might need another day off to recover from Little Christmas.
Celebrating Little Christmas
What is Little Christmas if not an opportunity for women to kick back and celebrate with their fellow women? There's no wrong way to celebrate the day. A hundred years ago, Irish women might have used Nollaig na mBan as an opportunity to gather at one another's homes for food, drinks and laughter while their husbands stayed home and watched the children.
Today, hard working women, no matter where they're from, can use Little Christmas as an excuse to schedule festivities with friends. Gather a group of girlfriends to go out for brunch, go on a bike ride or hike, go wine tasting or do whatever else you and your friends deem fun.
In Ireland, restaurants might offer a special ladies' afternoon tea service for Little Christmas, and clubs may be packed on January 6th with groups of female revelers. Men and kids might even give small Christmas gifts to the women in their lives. The gift-giving serves as tokens of appreciation for all that women do to keep their households running.
Celebrating the Epiphany
On January 6th, Little Christmas is just one holiday that Christians might observe. January 6th is also known as the Epiphany, the last of the 12 days of Christmas, which marks the day when the three wise men, or the magi, were led by a star to meet the newborn baby Jesus.
Epiphany traditions vary in different parts of the world, but this is generally a day of great celebration in primarily Christian countries. In many celebrations, there is the feast of the Epiphany with traditional dishes and desserts.
In Spain, colorful parades fill the streets and children wake up on January 6th to find gifts left for them by the three wise men. In Mexico, people eat Rosca de Reyes, a ring-shaped bread that's designed to look like a king's crown and has a small Jesus figurine baked inside. Whoever finds the baby in their piece of bread is supposed to hold a feast on February 2 for Candlemas.
Some Christians observe the day by attending church services or by sharing a feast with loved ones at home.
Little Christmas is an Irish holiday that was traditionally celebrated by women as a day free of homemaking and childrearing. Although it is rarely recognized today, you can make your own celebration. Women can take a day off and men can give gifts or make a gesture to the women in their lives. It falls on the same day as Epiphany, so you can also bring in some of those traditions when planning your own Little Christmas celebration.