seamus dubhghaill

Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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Nollaig na mBan (Women’s Little Christmas)

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!


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Pope Gregory XIII Commissions the Gregorian Calendar

pope-gregory-xiiiPope Gregory XIII commissions the new Gregorian calendar on February 24, 1582, replacing the Julian calendar introduced by Julius Caesar in 45BCE.

The reason for the reform is that the average length of the year in the Julian calendar is too long. It treats each year as 365 days, 6 hours in length, whereas calculations show that the actual mean length of a year is 365 days, 5 hours, and 49 minutes. As a result, the date of the actual vernal equinox, over the course of 13 centuries, has slowly slipped to March 10, while the calculation of the date of Easter still follows the traditional date of March 21.

These calculations are verified by the observations of mathematician and astronomer Christopher Clavius, and the new calendar is instituted when Gregory decrees on February 24, 1582, that the day after Thursday, October 4, 1582 will not be Friday, October 5, but rather Friday, October 15, 1582. The new calendar duly replaces the Julian calendar and has since come into universal use. Because of Gregory’s involvement, the reformed Julian calendar comes to be known as the Gregorian calendar.

The switchover is bitterly opposed by much of the populace, who fear it is an attempt by landlords to cheat them out of a week and a half of rent. However, the Catholic countries of Spain, Portugal, Poland, and Italy comply almost immediately. France, some states of the Dutch Republic, and various Catholic states in Germany and Switzerland follow suit within a year or two, and Hungary follows in 1587.

More than a century passes before Protestant Europe accepts the new calendar. Denmark, the remaining states of the Dutch Republic, and the Protestant states of the Holy Roman Empire and Switzerland adopt the Gregorian calendar in 1700–1701. Ireland and Great Britain, along with its American colonies, reform in 1752, where Wednesday, September 2, 1752 is immediately followed by Thursday, September 14, 1752. They are joined by the last Protestant holdout, Sweden, on March 1, 1753.

The Gregorian calendar is not accepted in eastern Christendom for several hundred years, and then only as the civil calendar. The Gregorian Calendar is instituted in Russia by the Bolsheviks in 1917. Romania accepts it in 1919 and is followed by Turkey in 1923. The last Orthodox country to accept the calendar is Greece, also in 1923.