January 6, 2019
“Nollaig na mBan” or “Little Women’s Christmas” is an old tradition that’s still celebrated by women all over Ireland. It was a tradition that is deeply rooted especially in Kerry and Cork, home too many of our ancestors. Several informants suggested that the tradition was also observed especially in Western Newfoundland, when the women gathered on Twelfth Night – Old Christmas Day (January 6).
Christmas is the time if the year that woman were especially busy and when large families were the norm they were especially busy! The work or “drudge” as it was known among women included laundry, ironing, mending, baking , daily tidying of kitchen and parlor, cleaning, childcare, three meals a day, hauling water, keeping the fire burning in the stove. Then there was making the family garments and seasonal preserving of fruits, vegetables and meat. Women tended to be responsible for livestock and poultry. With Christmas more responsibilities were taken on including the purchasing presents, packing and wrapping gifts and decorating the house. It was a full day.
But each year, after the Christmas holiday, tired women finally got a break – for one evening, at least. On January 6th men would take over of the housework, offering women a chance to go out to relax with each other.
Prior to the 1960s, Ireland’s drinking establishments were almost exclusively the domain of men, and no respectable woman could or would be seen drinking inside. It wasn’t a law, but it was the reigning social convention, and many bars wouldn’t let women in. But that doesn’t mean that Irish women never drank. They just did it in a slightly less conspicuous way: inside a small, screened-off room attached to the bar called the snug. In the comfort of the “snug” they reflected on the past year telling stories and singing a few songs!
In general, Irish women for Nollaig na mBan” or “Little Women’s Christmas” largely drank at home, inviting their women friends to join them. The men typically removing themselves from the house where the girls were too meet. In Newfoundland with no snug the women typically gathered in the homes of their women friends.
Ladies, enjoy the night!! “Nollaig na mBan” or “Little Women’s Christmas” call up the girls and get out of the house for a night!!
If you know of this tradition being practiced in Newfoundland and Labrador I would love to hear from you!