Nollaig na mBan – a very simple celebration

Women together … The Holy Kinship (Geertgen tot Sint Jans) c. 1495

Learning from Irish women ….

Some of the most stressful events in life are also times of celebration. Holidays, family events, and even Christmas. In some ways it’s hardly surprising. We make extensive preparations, involving others, sometimes costly financially and things can go wrong and not work out as we wish. Often it pays to do things more simply!

It is also good after a busy or stressful period to simply pause and have a simple break.

From rural western Ireland comes the lovely tradition of Nollaig na mBan (pronunciation Null-ug na Mon) at the end of Christmas fesitivities on January 6th. It is sometimes  called Women’s Christmas.

The poet Mary O’Malley from Connemara describes her experience of the tradition: “It was mostly afternoon visiting, because women didn’t stay out late those days. And they didn’t drink either, apart from maybe the odd glass of port. It was mostly tea and cake and talk.”

“Us women would go visiting that afternoon. It was a very simple celebration, just eating a slice of currant loaf in someone’s house and having a cup of tea and a chat, but that was the day you’d do something for yourself and have a rest after all the Christmas work,” (Siobhan Fahy from Ballyferriter on the Dingle peninsula.)

Women of west Cork at a Nollaig na mBan gathering in the 1930s

The women of western Ireland no doubt had hard work to do over Christmas and New Year and welcomed, and deserved, this very simple break. Often it meant simply getting together for a chat, a drink and to finish the Christmas cake.

Times change, and gender roles have become wore flexible. However it is worth reflecting on this lovely simple tradition and considering if we can learn from and adapt the tradition in our circumstances. Here are some thoughts for women and men today – perhaps you have your suggestions too.

  • Don’t forget to say Thank You to anyone who made Christmas or New Year special for you – and you can say it more than once!
  • Remember the women of previous years who have made special Christmases for you
  • Pause in your daily life to enjoy a slice of cake and a drink, and share that time with a family member or friend if you wish.
  • Above all else – keep it very simple!

About stchrysostoms

St Chrysostom’s is an Anglican (Church of England) parish church in Manchester, UK. We’re an inclusive, diverse and welcoming faith community rejoicing in our Anglo Catholic tradition, where people of many differing backgrounds make friends. Find our Facebook group at
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