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 on January 6th, Little Christmas has historically been a holiday enjoyed by Irish women who needed a break after weeks of Christmas-related labor. Today, women around the world can join in on the celebration. But... what is Little Christmas, exactly? And how should you celebrate it?
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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, 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 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 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, hardworking 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 get manicures, eat brunch, 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 gifts to the women in their lives, 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, which marks the day when the three wise men were led by a star to meet the newborn Jesus. Epiphany traditions vary by country, but this is generally a day of great celebration in primarily Christian countries.
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.
- RTE: The roots and traditions of Nollaig na mBan
- Irish Examiner: What's the deal with Women's Little Christmas?
- The New York Times: Epiphany Celebrations Around the World
- TheJournal.ie: Today is Nollaig na mBan - here are some ways to make the most of it
- Christmas in Ireland and other parts of the world.
- Recipe for King's Cake, also popular at Mardi Gras celebrations.