Friday, January 8, 1993


The end of the Christmas festivities is greeted with relief by the womenfolk for whom the festival is one of almost a continuous round of food preparation. The twelfth day of Christmas is traditionally referred to as "Little Christmas" because the celebration meal is of less gargantuan proportions than that of Christmas Day itself. It was almost popularly known in Ireland as Nollaig na mBan (Women's Christmas) to differentiate it from Christmas Day which was known as Nollaig na bFear (Men's Christmas).

The name Epiphany which is a Greek word refers to the manifestation to the Magi as the three Kings and indicates the final day of the Christmas festivity. In the Eastern Church up to the 4th Century the combined celebrations of Christ's nativity and baptism occurred on January 6th. The severance of the two feast days occurred around the end of the 4th century and it was only then that the Epiphany became one of the most important festivals in the Eastern Church before later passing on into the Western Church.

January 6th is also traditionally acknowledged as the anniversary of the wedding feast of Cana and as one would expect the annual reenactment of the miracle at Cana figures prominently in Irish folklore. "On the night of the three Kings water is turned into wine" recounts the ancient proverb. Blessed wells which are to be found in almost every townland in the country are without exception thought to undergo a magic transformation on the dawning of the feast of the Epiphany when the water is miraculously changed to wine. Many a believer who has braved the winter cold to drink his fill of wine has come away a sorry and disappointed man. Such disappointment must be seen as an irrational disregard for the subtle requirements of taste needed to distinguish between water and wine especially when sitting outdoors on a cold winters night.

On the days following the Epiphany, Christmas decorations are by tradition taken down. The holly, ivy and other evergreens which decorated the house are by tradition disposed of by burning. In some areas it was a practice to retain the withered greenery for lighting under the pancake fire on Shrove Tuesday. If not retained for that purpose it is generally burned immediately rather than disposed of otherwise because of the reverence with which all things associated with Christmas are treated. The twelve days of Christmas are days of celebration and enjoyment generally. Even the normal superstitions of the people centred on ghosts and fairies are suspended during the season of goodwill of which Shakespeare wrote "No spirit dare stir abroad".

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