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Nollaig na mBan

January 6, 2013

It’s a sad state of affairs when after the – almost impossible – book cull of last year I still needed more bookshelves. The moral of this little story is: when you ask someone to build shelves, really think about the measurements first!
So, I called into Cullinan’s hardware in Ennistymon – North Clare’s market town – and bought a few planks, cut to size for me there and then, for a nifty €10.60 including shelf supports. Now, there are shelves within shelves,and books upon them.

And… I think I still need more shelves. Oh. Dear.

Today is the The Feast of the Epiphany, The Feast of the Kings, Little Christmas.
When I was fifteen one of my french language exchanges took place at Christmas. It was an amazing experience overall, but especially I remember the frangipan tart from the boulangerie, eaten on the Feast of the Kings. I found the little silver token in my slice, and got to wear a gilded crown – French royalty for the day.

Here in Ireland, it’s also Nollaig na mBan – Women’s Christmas.
In recent years this feast day has been revitalised by women, who claim the day for themselves; using it as an excuse for a get-together with the girls, or family reunions.
One of the darlings of my shelves,’The Year in Ireland’ by Kevin Danagher (Mercier Press, 1972), is a gem. It wends its way through the calendar, detailing the customs and traditions associated with certain times of the year.
Danagher says the origins of Nollaig na mBan lie in the fact that the food eaten on January 6th was of more feminine tastes – tea, cakes, wines – compared to the meats of Christmas day. A tradition also grew up where the women of the house did no work on the 6th, and the men did domestic work as well as their everyday jobs.
So, Girls – down tools and let us eat cake!

There is another custom, in which small cakes were made of dough, or clay into which were placed small candles or rushlights: one for each member of the family. The family gathered, the candles were lit, and as a particular flame faltered and died out, so it was the order in which each person would die. This, Danagher says, was ‘a solemn occasion, and no levity was permitted’.
My wonderful, strong-willed grandmother died on this day in 1999, in her ninetieth year. She called me ‘Jewel’, and I adored her. My mother and three aunts try to get together on her anniversary and since I moved back to Clare, I join them. Trust Grannie to make it easy for us. Nollaig na mBan has many meanings.

Ages ago, I wrote a poem on this date and, not able to thing of anything else, entitled it ‘Nollaig na mBan’. It finally got published last December in

Next Wednesday, Jan 9th, I will be answering questions under The Next Big Thing having been nominated by the poet and writer Celeste Augé.
Thanks, Celeste!

So, see you Wednesday, and have a blog-tastic New Year!

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