Celebrated 12 days after Christmas, on January 6th, is Women’s Christmas or Nollaig na mBan as it is called in Ireland (pronounced Null-ug na Mon).  Some of us might know this date as the Feast of the Epiphany, the day when Christians believe the Three Wise Men arrived in Bethlehem bearing gifts for the Christ child.  But in Ireland, especially in Cork and Kerry, this day is also known as Women’s Christmas.

Although it began in the 18th century, the tradition of Women’s Christmas is still strong in western Ireland.  Irish men, realizing the hard work it took their tireless spouses to organize the meals, the gifts, the decorating and the get-togethers with family and friends, took on all the household duties for the day – cooked, cleaned and looked after the children.  The mothers, aunts, sisters, and daughters then left all the chores behind and went out to celebrate.  For some it may have been a house party or a quiet tea with friends.  For others, it may have been a night out at a public house.  Some choose to exchange gifts, others not.  One thing was for certain though, and that is women were expected to rest.  An article from the Irish Times in 1998 joked that even God rested on the seventh day, Irish women didn’t stop until the twelfth!

There’s also another very old Gaelic saying: “Nollaig na bhfear, Nollaig Mhor Maith, Nollaig na mBan, Nollaig gan Mhaith” … which, if taken literally, means “Men’s Christmas is a fine big Christmas, Women’s Christmas is a no-good Christmas”.  Perhaps a little ‘mean spirited’, but I think there may be some truth to it.  Even today, leading up to Christmas, women have been budgeting, baking, wrapping, roasting, decorating and negotiating each and every aspect of the holiday season.  After all the days of celebrating, every woman should get to go out for a wee celebration of her own.

Celebrating Nollaig Na mBan at Peter Devine’s Irish Pub.

According to Irish scholar, Alan Titley, the long-standing tradition of Nollaig na mBan was very common in the west of Ireland. “Most women in west Kerry would have raised five or six turkeys for sale at the Christmas market,” he said. “They kept the money – like egg money – and if there was anything left over after Christmas they spent it on themselves.”  Men would brave the unknown and look after the home and children while women would steal away for a few hours in each other’s homes or the local pub to relax and enjoy each other’s company.

Interestingly, it was only after 1958 when women were allowed to go into pubs in Ireland without the accompaniment of a man.  Before then, January 6th was the only day of the year when women were allowed into pubs.  Previously, a woman had to be chaperoned by a man, be he husband, brother, father or uncle.  And God help those who may have dared to enter this male-dominated domain without a chaperone.  Their reputation was sullied forever.  But one day a year, on Women’s Christmas, they would enter this domain unaccompanied and without shame.  Together these hard-working women would pool the few shillings they had been saving and, sitting in “the snug,” they would drink stout and eat sandwiches. 

Why have I not heard of Women’s Christmas before?  I’ve since learned that it is followed in parts of Scotland, Canada, Australia, and Puerto Rico, wherever large groups of Irish have emigrated.  But why hasn’t this tradition been adopted here in the U.S.?  We are working as hard as ever.  We may be better educated than we were 100 years ago and we may not be cutting the turf, or slaughtering the chickens, but we don’t stop from morning til night.  Many of us are single parents, raising a family on one income.  Or perhaps we’re taking care of sick or elderly family members while having an all-consuming career.  It is a fact that working mothers spend more time on work, household labor, and child care than fathers.  I think its about time we strengthened this important Irish tradition, which celebrates women and all that we do.

Let’s get together … sisters, aunts, cousins, mothers … all the women in your family, your town or workplace.  Gather together and celebrate Women’s Christmas!  It doesn’t have to be fancy or expensive.  It just has to be!

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References:  Wikipedia, IrishwomenonCovington Travel, Ireland Fun Facts, The Independent, Irish Central,


“THE” Anne Hathaway

No, not the one who starred as Catwoman in Batman or Fantine in Les Miserables, but the original ….. the one who was married to William Shakespeare.  There is so-o-o much written about William Shakespeare, prolific poet and playwright, but there is practically no information on his wife, Anne Hathaway.   After visiting the charming ‘cottage’ (which is not a ‘cottage’ at all), you can’t help but become curious about this woman.  I only wish we knew more …..

Anne Hathaway

Anne Hathaway

The original Anne Hathaway was born in 1556 to Richard Hathaway and his first wife in a small hamlet in Stratford, near the river Avon.  The exact date is unknown.  Richard Hathaway was a somewhat successful yeoman farmer.  A “yeoman farmer” in Elizabethan England was “a commoner who owned and cultivated his own land”.  If you owned property in the 16th century, you had a bit of wealth and were of good social standing in the village.

When Richard Hathaway died, Anne was 25 years old, unwed, and still living at home.  As the oldest of the eight children, we can assume Anne knew, by that time, her place was to stay at home and help care for the younger children and the household.

Although legally you could marry as young as 18, the average age to marry was 28 for men and 26 for women.  Nobility generally arranged marriages to provide an alliance between high-ranking families, and, as a result, they married younger in order to produce an heir as quickly as possible.

In Richard Hathaway’s will he requested that his son, Bartholomew, move back to the 90-acre family farm, known as Newlands Farm, and maintain it for the family.  Women were not allowed to be property owners, but Richard did leave Anne the amount of £6 13s 4d (six pounds, thirteen shillings and four pence) to be paid “at the day of her marriage“.  (With inflation, it would be difficult to calculate how much that would be worth today, but let’s say about £250,000.)

So where and how did the unmarried, 25-year old Anne Hathaway meet the charming 18-year old William Shakespeare?

Birthplace of William Shakespeare

The Shakespeare family lived on Henley Street in the village of Stratford, about a mile from the Hathaway’s farm.  The two families were probably well known to each other, and I’m sure Anne, walking into town to shop and socialize, would have flirted with the handsome young Shakespeare from time to time, as he would have to the charming, self-assured older woman.

William Shakespeare

If they had a proper courtship is also unknown, but what is known is that Anne became pregnant by William, and within a few months a marriage was announced. Because William was just under the age of consent, he had to get approval from his father, John, and on November 27th 1582, a marriage license was issued to William and Anne and a surety bond was put up to ensure the marriage would take place.

It would have been scandalous at that time to be pregnant without the benefit of marriage .   Pregnant without marriage would have resulted in excommunication from the Church, a much more severe punishment than it is today.  Excommunication would have meant that neither person could have been received in the home of a Christian, or helped by a Christian in any way; nor, if they had broken the law, could they have been represented in a court of law.  Also, their child would have been ostracized by society and not eligible to any inheritance.  Marriage was the only alternative.

At one time, Shakespeare’s father had run a successful business but was now in financial ruin. As a potential husband, the young Shakespeare, had absolutely nothing to offer.  Hathaway, on the other hand, came from a family in good financial standing, and with her substantial dowry, would have been considered quite the catch.

On November 28th, 1582, William and Anne were granted a marriage license by the Bishop of Worcester and were married quietly in the village of Temple Grafton, approximately five miles from Stratford.  After their marriage, Anne left her family farm and moved in with William’s family on Henley Street.  A short seven months later, Anne and William became the parents of Susanna Shakespeare.  Two years later, Anne gave birth to twins, Hamnet and Judith.  And for the next 16 years, Anne lived in the Shakespeare family home, shared the household chores with her mother-in-law, Mary, her sister-in-law, Joan, and cared for her children.  (Hamnet died at the age of 11 from the plague).

Where was William, you are wondering?  Three years into the marriage, in 1588, William left Stratford for London.  William wanted to be an actor!  Did William want Anne and the children to join him?  We’ll never know.  Was she a homebody or was she afraid of the always threatening outbreaks of the plague in the big city?  Remember her only son, Hamnet, died of the plague at the age of 11.  What we do know is that Anne stayed in Stratford while William, over the next 25 years, pursued his career, and other loves.

William did return to Stratford frequently and in 1597 after having achieved financial success, he  purchased a much larger home for his family.  But it wasn’t until 1611, 14 years later, that William, the now hugely successful poet, actor and playwright, decided to return to his home and his wife and family.

For the next five years, Anne lived the life she had dreamed of . . . an upper middle-class housewife, socially respected, energetic and in good spirits (perhaps as in the Merry Wives of Windsor), with her husband, children and grandchildren . . .  until 1616 when, at the age of 52, William died unexpectedly.

Six years later, Anne was able to celebrate her husband’s success when his bust was installed near the altar at Trinity Church, where he was buried.

In 1623, at the age of 67, Anne Hathaway also passed and was buried at Trinity Church next to her husband …. perhaps closer in death than they were in life.


Anne’s family home of Newlands Farm remained with the family through the death of Bartholomew.   It was purchased by the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust in 1892 and fully restored to its original detailing.  This is probably one of the most photographed homes in Great Britain. Although it is referred to as Anne Hathaway’s Cottage, it is not a “cottage” at all.  This spacious home has twelve rooms, with several bedrooms and multiple chimneys for heating and cooking. With its timber framing, thatched roof and rose-covered trellises, the fairy-tale like setting will have you pulling out your camera as you approach this picture perfect, Tudor-style home.



This week, the media reported on the findings of the residue from William Shakespeare’s pipe.  It seemed they were shocked and a bit appalled at the fact that William Shakespeare, of all people, would have smoked marijuana and cocaine.  The use of opiates in Elizabeth times was quite popular (if one could afford them).  Let’s not forget that everyone was somewhat buzzed most of the time from drinking beer and ale instead of the (mostly polluted) water.  Botanists were very busy traveling the world in the 16th century bringing home new plant specimens.  Coca leaves imported Peru and tobacco leaves imported from Virginia in the New America were among the favorites.

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References:  Wikipedia.org, Shakespeare’s Birthplace Trust, Time Traveller’s Guide to Elizabethan England, William Shakespeare