Little Christmas (Irish: Nollaig na mBan, lit. 'Women's Christmas'), also known as Old Christmas, is one of the traditional names among Irish Christians and Amish Christians for 6 January, which 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.
Women's Little Christmas
Nollaig na mBan
Là na Bliadhna Ùire
Christians in Ireland and the Irish diaspora, particularly women
Newfoundland and Labrador
|Type||Christian, Irish and Scottish|
|Significance||visit of the Three Kings to Jesus, former date of Christmas|
|Observances||religious services, gift giving, family gatherings, meeting friends|
|Date||6 January in Ireland, 1 January in the Scottish Highlands|
|Related to||Christmas, Epiphany, Christmastide, Epiphanytide|
|Gregorian||16 June 2021|
|Julian||3 June 2021|
Owing to differences in liturgical calendars, as early as the fourth century, the churches of the eastern Roman Empire were celebrating Christmas on 6 January, while those of the western Roman Empire were celebrating it on 25 December.
In October 1582, Pope Gregory XIII introduced the Gregorian calendar as a correction of 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 21 March. To correct the accumulated error, he ordained the date be advanced by ten days. Most Roman Catholic countries adopted the new calendar immediately and Protestant countries followed suit over the following 200 years. In particular, the British Empire (including the American colonies) did so from 1752 with the Calendar (New Style) Act 1750, by which time the divergence had grown to eleven days. This meant that Christmas Day on 25 December ('New Style) was eleven days earlier than it would have been but for the Act, making "Old Christmas" [25 December ('Old Style')] happen on 5 January (NS). In February 1800, the Julian calendar had another leap year but the Gregorian did not, moving Old Christmas to 6 January (NS), which coincided with the Feast of the Epiphany.
Observance by country
In the Scottish Highlands the term Little Christmas (Scottish Gaelic: Nollaig Bheag) is applied to New Year's Day, also known as Là Challuinn, or Là na Bliadhna Ùire, while Epiphany is known as Là Féill nan Rìgh, the feast-day of the Kings. The Transalpine Redemptorists who live on Papa Stronsay in Scotland, celebrate 'Little Christmas' on the twenty-fifth day of every month, except for December, when the twenty-fifth day is celebrated as Christmas Day. The custom of blessing homes on Epiphany developed because the feast commemorates the time that the three kings visited the home of the Holy Family.
In the late 19th Century, the day was also known as Little Christmas in some parts of England, such as Lancashire. In the Isle of Man, New Year's Day on 1 January was formerly called Laa Nolick beg in Manx, or Little Christmas Day, while 6 January was referred to as Old Christmas Day. The name Little Christmas is also found in other languages including Slovene (mali Božič), Galician (Nadalinho), and Ukrainian.
In some parts of the Spanish-speaking world, the emphasis of Christmas Day is on family dinner reunion and church attendance, while gifts are exchanged on the Feast of the Epiphany, when according to tradition the Three Wise Men (or Magi) brought gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh to the Child Jesus. Tradition names them Melchior, Caspar and Balthazar. It is an important celebration in Spanish-speaking countries, mainly dedicated to children, who receive their gifts on the morning of 6 January. In some countries, like Spain, it is a public holiday that marks the end of the Christmas season which started on Christmas Eve (24 December).
In the Western Christian world, the two traditional days when Christmas decorations are removed are Twelfth Night (the night before the Feast of the Epiphany) and if they are not taken down on that day, Candlemas, the latter of which ends the Christmas-Epiphany season in some denominations.
Celebration of Christmas Day on 6 January is reflected in the words of Cherry-Tree Carol, an English folk-song that migrated to Appalachia in the Eastern United States. In his paper The Observance of Old Christmas in Southern Appalachia, C R Young writes 'sometime before the twentieth century, singers who may have been Appalachian residents turned the question which Mary asks of Jesus in regard to "what this world will be" into a query which Joseph puts to the unborn baby. Taking "Mary all on his left knee," he inquires when the birthday will be. Jesus responds:'
On the sixth day of January
My birthday shall be,
When the stars and the elements
Shall tremble with glee.
Young reports that "Bill 'Kitchen' Isom, an advocate of Old Christmas whose rendering of this carol Jean Thomas recorded in Carter County, Kentucky, gave the 'wind up of it' in these words:
'Twas on the sixth day of January
Angels did sing;
And the shepherds drew nigh
Their gifts for to bring.
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 Cork and Kerry, is so called because Irish men take on household duties for the day. Goose was 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 The Irish Times (January 1998), 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. In the dance concerned, female participants enacted the traditional celebration's house visits and slightly subversive tone by taking the active "male" role of switching from partner to partner.
- 1600 was a leap year in both calendars, being divisible by 400, but 1700 was a leap year only in the Julian calendar.
- until 1900, when there was another leap day in the Julian calendar but not the Gregorian. From then (until 2101), 25 December (Julian) maps to 7 January (Gregorian), which is Christmas Day for Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox Christians.
- "School terms in primary and post-primary schools". citizensinformation.ie. Archived from the original on 30 October 2013.
- "How December 25 Became Christmas". Biblical Archaeology Society. 10 December 2019.
- John Harland (May 2003). Lancashire Folklore. Kessinger Publishing. pp. 216–. ISBN 978-0-7661-5672-2. Retrieved 3 January 2012.
- George Augustus Sala (1869). Rome and Venice: with other wanderings in Italy, in 1866-7. Tinsley brothers. pp. 397–. Retrieved 3 January 2012.
- Edward Dwelly, Illustrated Gaelic-English Dictionary (Edinburgh: Birlinn, 2001).
- Cheshire notes and queries. Swain and Co., Ltd. 1882. Retrieved 3 January 2012.
- Arthur William Moore (1971). The folk-lore of the Isle of Man. Forgotten Books. pp. 150–. ISBN 978-1-60506-183-2. Retrieved 3 January 2012.
- American-Scandinavian Foundation (1917). Scandinavian review. American-Scandinavian Foundation. Retrieved 3 January 2012.
- Norwegian Migration to America. Ardent Media. pp. 216–. GGKEY:AEZFNU47LJ2. Retrieved 3 January 2012.
- "Advent to Epiphany: Celebrating The Christmas Cycle – Frequently Asked Questions". americancatholic.org. Archived from the original on 29 June 2016.
- "Candlemas". British Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved 9 April 2014.
Any Christmas decorations not taken down by Twelfth Night (January 5th) should be left up until Candlemas Day and then taken down.
- "Why do Amish celebrate "Old" Christmas?". Dutchman News. 17 December 2009.
- Young 1977, Footnote 25.
- Young 1977, Footnote 26.
- "Little Women's Christmas". ireland-fun-facts.com. Retrieved 6 January 2020.
- "The roots and traditions of Nollaig na mBan". rte.ie. RTÉ. 6 January 2020. Retrieved 6 January 2020.
- Hickey, Margaret (2018). Ireland's green larder : the definitive history of Irish food and drink ([Paperback edition] ed.). London: Unbound. p. 141. ISBN 978-1-78352-799-1. OCLC 1085196202.
- "What's the deal with Women's Little Christmas?". irishexaminer.com. Irish Examiner. 6 January 2018. Retrieved 4 January 2021.
the practice is largely dying out around the country but the tradition is still going strong in Kerry and Cork where anecdotal evidence suggests that there will be many ladies packed into restaurants and pubs this evening
- "The roots and traditions of Nollaig na mBan". rte.ie. RTÉ. 3 January 2021. Retrieved 4 January 2021.
By the mid 20th century, the tradition of Nollaig na mBan had largely died out, but is slowly undergoing a revival. Hotels and restaurants are advertising ladies' afternoon teas and evenings out for the occasion
- "On the women's day of Christmas". The Irish Times. 8 January 1998.
- "Kelfenora set figures". setdanceteacher.co.uk. Archived from the original on 9 January 2004.
- Labasheeda Set 3rd Figure Reel-Little Christmas. 23 September 2007 – via YouTube.
- Connecticut Irish dance teacher Kathy Mulkerin Carew, quoted in Mary Burke. "Forgotten Remembrances: The 6 January 'Women's Christmas' and the 6 January 1839 'Night of the Big Wind' in 'The Dead'". James Joyce Quarterly 54.3-4 (2017): 267.
- Young, Chester Raymond (1977). "The Observance of Old Christmas in Southern Appalachia". In J. W. Williamson (ed.). An Appalachian Symposium: Essays Written in Honor of Cratis D. Williams. Appalachian State University. doi:10.2307/j.ctt1xp3mkm.16.