Little Christmas, traditionally known as Nollaig na mBan or Women’s Little Christmas, takes place on January 6 each year. It is also known more widely as the Feast of the Epiphany, celebrated after the conclusion of the twelve days of Christmastide. It is the traditional end of the Christmas season and until 2013 was the last day of the Christmas holidays for both primary and secondary schools in Ireland.
Owing to differences in liturgical calendars, as early as the fourth century, the churches of the Eastern Roman Empire were celebrating Christmas on January 6, while those of the Western Roman Empire were celebrating it on December 25.
In October 1582, Pope Gregory XIII introduces the Gregorian calendar as a correction the Julian calendar, because the latter has too many leap years that cause it to drift out of alignment with the solar year. This has liturgical significance since calculation of the date of Easter assumes that spring equinox in the Northern Hemisphere occurs on March 21. To correct the accumulated error, he ordains the date be advanced by ten days. Most Roman Catholic countries adopt the new calendar immediately and Protestant countries follow suit over the following 200 years. For this reason, in some parts of the world, the Feast of the Epiphany, which is traditionally observed on January 6, is sometimes referred to as Old Christmas or Old Christmas Day.
In Ireland, Little Christmas is also called Women’s Christmas (Irish: Nollaig na mBan), and sometimes Women’s Little Christmas. The tradition, still strong in counties Cork and Kerry, is so called because Irish men take on household duties for the day. Goose is the traditional meat served on Women’s Christmas. Some women hold parties or go out to celebrate the day with their friends, sisters, mothers and aunts. As a result, parties of women and girls are common in bars and restaurants on this night.
In Ireland and Puerto Rico, it is the traditional day to remove the Christmas tree and decorations. The tradition is not well documented, but one article from a January 1998 issue of The Irish Times, entitled “On the woman’s day of Christmas,” describes both some sources of information and the spirit of this occasion.
A “Little Christmas” is also a figure in Irish set dancing. It refers to a figure where half the set, four dancers, join together with hands linked behind partners lower back, and the whole figure proceeds to rotate in a clockwise motion, usually for eight bars.
So, to all of the women of Ireland and the Irish diaspora, Nollaig na mBan shona daoibh!