January 6th: ‘Women’s Little Christmas – Nollaig na mBan’

I have been here before,

But when or how I cannot tell;

I know the grass beyond the door,

The sweet keen smell,

The sighing sound, the lights around the shore…

From: ‘Sudden Light’ by Dante Gabriel Rosetti (1828-1882)

Well, all you F & F followers, it’s our first birthday. Thank you so much every one of you – both those who leave comments and those who just look. It means a lot to me that people get pleasure from reading my ramblings amongst the traditional, the folksy and the esoteric. So now the challenge is to do it all again - better than the first time.

2011 will bring some of the same festivals but from a different angle and with different food, plus lots of new feasts to enjoy as well. The net will be cast a little wider but I hope that you continue to enjoy the blog and keep in touch. Please make a new year’s resolution to leave a comment – it really keeps me going.

The 6th of January is Epiphany in the Western Church tradition and Christmas Day in the Orthodox. In Western Ireland it is sometimes referred to as ‘Nollaig na mBan’ or ‘Women’s Little Christmas’ – what a splendid idea!

At Women’s Little Christmas the men do the housework and the women go out together and having a good time. The only job in the home that the women have to do today is to light the candles to celebrate the Epiphany Festival.

Given that the burden of home making still mostly falls on women and the Christmas season is the pinnacle of the home makers’ endeavours I guess we're all exhausted by now and fed up with trying to be domestic goddesses. So the idea that there can be a day when everyone understands that women can put their feet up and then go out and party is a great one. 

Here’s the Irish Times on ‘Nollaig na mBan’

It's interesting how old feasts can be remade for modern times and WLC is gaining ground all over the place these days. When I started thinking of holding an elegant ‘Little Christmas’ supper party, it got me thinking about whether there was such a thing as ‘men’s food’ and 'women’s food’. Are there cultures in which certain things can only be eaten by one sex?
So thanks to the wonders of Google I can tell you that in Namibia there are a number of taboos that mean that women and men eat different parts of an animal – women cannot eat the tongue lest they become gossips (!) and the head of the household always eats the chest parts. I thought it might be that women were condemned to eat the less good bits – but actually not so; the taboos acknowledge that women, at least those of childbearing age, are entitled to proper nourishment. There are also food taboos to do with pregnancy – women in certain parts of Africa do not eat green vegetables or fish during pregnancy, and in Western Malaysia a pregnant women must not be left to eat alone.

A number of ancient Jewish practices chime with Women's Little Christmas – only women light the candles at Shabat, women used to have a rest day on the first day of every new moon called ‘Rosh Chodesh’ and it is a woman’s job to separate the dough for the challah bread when it is given to a priest.

Anyway fascinating as this might be, how shall we celebrate? I think it has to be with something light, elegant, tempting and an antidote to recent excesses, so scallops with chilli and ginger anyone?

Here we go.

Scallops with chilli and ginger
Try and get non-dredged scallops – dredging is a harsh scouring our seabeds - it's not good.
You will need up to six scallops per person, depending on whether it's a main course or not and how greedy you are.

Slice a clove of garlic, a small chill and a piece of ginger and fry in some good olive oil until lightly coloured. Ideally leave the oil for a little while to develop the flavour.
Wash and pick over the scallops for any black bits - leave the coral if you are lucky enough to have some. Dry the scallops on kitchen paper and season.

When everyone is ready, heat up the oil and throw in the scallops, cook for a very short time - a minute maybe - no more. Then turn over and cook the other side. It depends on how big your scallops are - little queenies take seconds, over-cook scallops and they are, as Tom Lehrer says, like broiled hockey puck.

Throw in some chopped coriander and serve immediately. We had them with pink fir apple potatoes (fingerlings if you're over the pond), a green salad with a spicy dressing and a lot of good white wine.

‘Have yourself a merry little Christmas
Let your heart be light
From now on our troubles
Will be out of sight…….
As sung by Judy Garland in the film ‘Meet me in St Louis’: Lyrics and Music by Martin and Blane (1943)

PS If you want something more traditional you can of course go back to the beginning again….


Brownieville Girl said...

Nollaig bheag shona duit Liz (!)
and Happy Blog anniversary.

Those scallops look delicious.

Dom at Belleau Kitchen said...

oooh yes, scallops... lovely idea... I could have passed you on my challah recipe... next time x

debby emadian said...

Hello Liz,
I've just discovered your blog via Kitchenmaid. I'm fascinated by the concept of the women's and men's food. I had no idea such a tradition existed, thanks for sharing.

'Nollaig na mBan' is a lovely idea. I hope yours was a good one....I'm fortunate because my husband has just hoovered the whole house while I was taking down the paper snowflakes.....I had to eventually.... I could keep them up all year!

Liz said...

Thanks all - much appreciated - and I have a husband who loves the hoover too!

sprhoyle said...

Liz, I'll try to be a better commenter (is there such a word?) in 2011. I had never heard of Women's Little Christmas, but am working on the iodea for next year.... Scallops are definitely women's food in this house. The domestic comrade dislikes them.

Congratulations on keeping up the pace -- you actually quickened the pace over the year I think! -- and Happy Birthday Blog.