Epiphany on 6 January is celebrated throughout Europe – with France’s ‘galette des rois’ cake, in Spain’s ‘cabalgata’ parade and in Italy’s broomstick-riding ‘Befana’ who brings presents. In Ireland, however, the day is known as Women’s Christmas.
Women’s Christmas, Nollaig na mBan in Irish Gaelic, or Little Christmas as it is alternatively known, is traditionally the day when women are able to rest after their hard work over the Christmas period. They gather with friends, possibly exchanging gifts, and don’t do any work for a day – instead leaving men to cook for them, look after the children and run the household.
The men of Ireland weren’t altogether delighted by the role-reversal. An Irish proverb went like this: “Nollaig na bhfear, Nollaig Mhor Maith; Nollaig na mBan, Nollaig gan Mhaith”, which means “Men’s Christmas: a fine big Christmas; women’s Christmas, a no-good Christmas”.
Before 1958, January 6 was the only day of the year when women in Ireland were allowed into pubs. Groups of women would pool together the money they had saved, and go and drink and eat in the pub.
Previously, women in Ireland would only set foot in a pub if they were chaperoned by a man. Those who braved the male-dominated domain of the Irish bar were viewed as not respectable. Women today go out with their friends to a local pub or a restaurant to celebrate. Businesses across Ireland have begun to take advantage of the day’s popularity with deals and promotions.
The day has also been used by feminist activists as an opportunity to celebrate women’s achievements and inspire change. The Irish Writers Centre in Dublin hosts an event on the day which pays tribute to Irish female writers and the Glasnevin Cemetery Museum runs a tour about women who shaped the nation.
This year HerStory, a cultural activism project, organised a festival to quite literally shed a light on the lives and achievements of important women throughout history and culture. On the eve of Women’s Christmas, buildings across Dublin were illuminated with projections of famous or influential women, from 16-year-old climate activist Greta Thunberg, to Irish footballer Anne O’Brien and Fuamnach, a witch from medieval Irish mythology.
The year 2018 was significant for women’s rights in Ireland. A hundred years after Irish women won the right to vote, they came out in huge numbers to vote on whether to repeal or keep the Eighth Amendment in the Irish Constitution, a law that grants equal right to life for the mother and the unborn child. The Republic voted to overturn the country’s draconian abortion ban by a landslide.
The first day of 2019 saw abortion services legally available for the first time, as well as new measures against coercive control in abusive relationships passed into law.
But the gender equality battle is not yet won. The Gender Equality Index 2017, produced by the European Institute for Gender Equality, highlights how Ireland still has progress to make on gender equality in the household: 90% of Irish women do cooking and housework every day for at least one hour, compared to only 50% men.
Culled from France 24