Epiphany, Womens Christmas in Ireland, Twelfth Night

Women's Christmas in Irelnad , Epiphany

Keeping Tradition Alive!

I have always loved Epiphany! And also Nollaig na mBan (women's Christmas as translated from the Irish - Gaelic). Or maybe its the word itself. I don't use it often but it fairly conjures up a world of thought when I hear it! LIttle wonder I chose it for an album title even though the word does not appear in any of the songs. 


The Christian Calendar celebrates "Epiphany" on January 6th. Nollaig na mBan (Women's Christmas) or "Twelfth Night" closed out the Season that same day! It was not unusual for another turkey to be cooked on the feast of the Epiphany. During my childhood, this was the day Christmas decorations were taken down. It was considered unlucky to take them down before that date.


Seed cakes are often associated with the twelfth day of Christmas, although it would not have been unusual to bake seed cakes for other dates on the Christmas calendar, including New Years Day and St. Stephen's Day (December 26th).


January 6th was also the day that women were given leave to vacate the house, usually in groups, and relieved of all household duties. Hence its name, "Nollaig na mBan" or Women's Christmas, since it was a time for women to rest. In recent years, this tradition is being revisited by many women as a way to take a little time out for themselves. 


In the Christian Orthodox tradition, Christmas is often still celebrated on January 6th. This is due to the old Julian calendar, when Christmas falls on this date. In many countries around the world, this is the day to exchange gift for the holidays.


Here's an old school seed cake recipe in honor of the day: 

“No tea table, in my opinion, is complete without a good seed cake.”  

Memoir of James Beard  ~ Delights and Prejudices




SOURCE:The Art of Irish Cooking by Monica Sheridan (Gramercy, 1965)



1 cup butter

1 cup sugar

4 eggs

2-1/2 cups sifted cake flour

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1-1/4 teaspoon caraway seeds

2 tablespoons Irish whiskey

Extra caraway seeds for dusting on top



Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Cream the butter and the sugar together until white and fluffy. 

Add the eggs, one at a time, with a dust of flour. Beat well after the addition of each egg. 

Sift the flour with the baking powder and fold gently into the egg mixture with the caraway seeds. 

Add the whiskey and pour the mixture into an 8-inch cake pan that has been lined with wax paper. 

Scatter some caraway seeds on top. 

Bake for 1 hour. 

Reduce the heat toward the end of the baking time.