If you haven’t taken down your Christmas tree and decorations yet, don’t worry. You’re just keeping with Irish tradition. While Christmas day has come and gone, Christmas season isn’t over yet. In Ireland, we are still looking forward to Little Christmas, also known as Nollaig Mna. It’s the Irish take on the Feast of the Epiphany, which is on January 6th. In parts of the United States, Latin America, France and Spain, it is known as Three Kings Day. It is the 12th and last day of Christmas, and it is a great day for giving some small Irish gifts to the ladies in your life.
In Ireland, it has been traditionally celebrated as Nollaig Mna, which translates as Women’s Christmas. It originally celebrated the visit of the three wise men to the baby Jesus – and of course to his mother Mary. It has become a day for the women of the house to get a break. Traditionally, it was the women who did all the hard work of cooking and cleaning for the big day, and Nollaig Mna was a time for them to put their feet up and relax while the men did the cooking and housework. Times have changed, and it would be presumptuous to assume the old division of labor still held true. Most modern couples share the effort of preparing for Christmas, but who would want to kill off a tradition that means a day off?
Now, Nollaig Mna is more likely to mean a girly night out than trying to ignore the chaos in the kitchen. School is usually back in session by the 6th, so some Irish mothers can enjoy a bit more peace in the morning. Whether the woman of the house is a retired professional, a busy young mother or a time squeezed member of the sandwich generation caring for her aging parents and her not quite grown children, who would begrudge her a day of leisure and a bit of craic with her besties? And no doubt she’d appreciate some small Irish gifts to acknowledge the special role she plays as a mother, wife, aunt, godmother, grandmother or all around wonder woman.
If there is anything she was pining for that did not appear under the Christmas tree, this is the time to get it for her. Maybe she had her eye on a special piece of jewelry to enjoy in the New Year or an Aran knit accessory to keep her warm. Or perhaps an evening with her friends to watch a movie or raise a glass is her preference. If she is a book lover, a copy of James Joyce’s The Dead is perfect because it is set on Epiphany.
Do enjoy some king cake, but don’t forget the queen of your home, the woman who holds it all together. Irish gifts are usually given to your mother on this day to honor the work she does all year long but especially at Christmas.