Make Oiche Nollaig Na mBan a Little Different


Sarah McDonnell and THE GLOSS team suggest ways to celebrate …

Today marks the end of the Twelve Days of Christmas, Little Christmas, the customary day for taking down the decorations, giving the house a good old clean, including washing floors, and setting forth into a new year with hope. In France, you would be eating a galette today, with its three little kings hidden in the pastry, to mark the Epiphany; in some Spanish-speaking countries in South America, children receive their presents today; in Scotland a tradition remains of chalking your front door with CMB – the initials of the magi – Caspar, Melchior and Balthazaar.

It’s also Oiche Nollaig na mBan, Women’s Christmas, a day, as you know, when domestic duties are supposed to be evenly shared, and women, before Dr Tony came between us and a good time, gathered with female friends, sisters, aunts and mums to celebrate an evening off and the (ahem) simple unadulterated joy of being a woman, with other similarly delighted other women. In times gone by it might have meant a simple cup of tea and Christmas cake, more recently, an early bird prosecco and salmon special. Not relevant! All this is now mBanned.

This is a funny old January 6. We are in lockdown. We cannot see our friends or family members. We are leaving the Christmas tree, and certainly the fairylights, in place for at least another month, to cheer us up and out of lockdown. Our housemates, if we have them, have already endured a Christmas rota of chore-sharing (much of it theoretical) and any notion of leaning in to extra duties, be it sucking up the last of the pine needles, or preparing a meal for the weary woman of the house, may well be greeted with a lip as curled as the crispy holly on the mantelpiece. In short, it seems quite a lot like any other day.

How to make it different from any other? Here are a few ideas …

Light candles: Traditionally twelve were lit on Oiche Nollaig na mBan. This year, you can’t have different women to light them, thereby circumventing that convention that the woman who lit the first candle to go out would die first! That old Irish obsession with death! Avoid the superstition altogether and light a candle from the new Botanical Collection from Rathbornes – the fresh floral scents of spring.

Celebrate your friendships: Phone a female friend or Zoom with a group of girls – your chat may not be overly feminist in flavour: you could just compare Christmas war stories or the quality of your Christmas cakes. Or send a group email to your dearest female friends and family members: tell them what they mean to you and how you miss them. Female friendship, even at a distance, is one of the mainstays of our lockdown lives.

Do a Clean Sweep of the Mantel: leave the fairylights up to twinkle on, but replace the garland with little pots of new growth – scented hyacinth bulbs are often outside most supermarkets, alongside the briquettes and logs. Transfer them from nasty plastic pots to recycled candle jars, even water tumblers. It’s nice to see the roots through the glass. Fresh hope! When they grow too stalky, cut them and give them a second act in a vase or jam jar on the kitchen table and replant the bulbs in a pot outside.

Outsource the celebration: Forget the diet and order in dinner, allow yourself a glass (not three, it’s a Tuesday) of champagne or wine, and avoid the washing-up. One old tradition consisted of leaving a bucket of clean water out overnight. On no account must you use the water the following morning. Oddly enough I know a woman who fills the kettle with fresh water every night before she goes to bed, only to discard the water the following morning. This must be where it came from! My own Oiche Nollaig na mBan water sports will include a deep hot bath with rosemary-spiked Epsom salts and a few drops of Clarins Bath Concentrate – an oldie but a goodie.

Main featured image: Ian Bliss

Sarah Halliwell, beauty editor

This evening I’ll be mainly trying to avoid the leftover trifle that is calling my name from the fridge. Ditto the runny cheese and general cake situation – all those things that don’t enter the house for the other 364 days of the year. I’m trying to maintain my 2020 online Pilates habit, not to be smug but in an attempt to stay sane, as it helped during the previous lockdowns (thanks to the wonderful teachers at – I hadn’t done Pilates for about ten years, and am now re-addicted to its great benefits, not least the way it unknots your back – much needed when #WFH on a crap chair. Since tennis is no longer an option, reading by the fire is a good alternative – I’ve just finished Donal Ryan’s Strange Flowers (though preferred his other novels) and am moving on to Shuggie Bain plus a handful of Daphne du Mauriers, sent to my teen daughter as a Christmas present, and Rumer Godden’s The Greengage Summer – set in a sunny south of France, it’s rather lovelier than the recent gloomy TV version of her Black Narcissus. We’re teaching my teenager to drive at the moment, so spend dark rainy evenings bunny-hopping around empty carparks, gears screeching as we attempt to steer clear of the parked-up vehicles of amorous couples trying to find romance during lockdown. Home comforts currently include Dr Hauschka Lemon Body Oil – it smells divine – and an enveloping veil of Chanel’s new perfume, which I have an exclusive sample of (watch this space to find out more this Friday…. )

Penny McCormick, deputy editor

For the last few evenings, I’ve enjoyed mindful painting sessions by the fireside adding some layers to this art kit I received as a Christmas present, and I look forward to continuing it later. It’s supposed to be a snowy, ice skating scene at Somerset House in London – one of several kits I recommend by MasterPeace (I completed a seascape during lockdown 1.0). Trying to be more creative was one of my new year resolutions, even though that invariably means making quite a mess with paint, rather than channelling my inner Chagall. In the spirit of Epiphany, I’ll also be lighting a new Peace candle by Daylesford (from a selection at Hedgeroe Home). It sounds like an interesting blend of cardamom, juniper berries, frankincense, wood and vetiver. Of course, the few remaining purple Quality Street will be calling out to me too …

Síomha Connolly, digital editor

As I did the customary Big Clean on Sunday, ridding the house of all things Christmas and making way for a fresh new year, I will be spending the evening how most of my lockdown evenings seem to go – comfort food and an early night with a good book (and my new Loom Irish linen pyjamas, a very welcome Christmas surprise). I cooked a large batch of Delia Smith’s beef stew earlier this week (Trish Deseine has shared a veggie/almost vegan version on today!) which is the perfect antidote to the -1 weather we are promised for tonight. After completing Bridgerton over Christmas, I patiently await the next Netflix series that will grab me but for now will stick to reading. I got through three great reads over Christmas, Writers and Lovers by Lily King, You Exist Too Much by Zaina Arafat, and Leave The World Behind by Rumaan Alam – the latter I don’t quite recommend for anyone feeling overly stressed or anxious about current world events, it’s an end of the world apocalyptic type novel with no redeeming ending (sorry for slight spoiler.) I’ve moved on to Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart which isn’t exactly uplifting either (a young boy with an alcoholic mother growing up in Thatcher-era working-class Glasgow) but is certainly gripping in its own way and if the Booker nomination is anything to go by, promises to be a good read.

Image: Gone Girl / 20th Century Fox

Aislinn Coffey, style editor

I will be drawing myself a bath and whiling away the dark evening hours with a good soak. The right products transform a bath from basic to a full-blown selfcare session. I love elevated natural products like Neal’s Yard Remedies soothing geranium and orange foaming bath foam, it is a heavenly scent: its skin-conditioning botanical oils work to leave your skin feeling nourished and fragrant. A decent bath provides an element of escapism, a moment to yourself totally removed from the humdrum of life’s everyday routines. The Super Hydration Instant Facial mask by Seoulista gives you the softest skin the next morning. I love to use a really good light but creamy soap too, Chanel’s fragrant The Bath Soap is my favourite. This evening I will splurge and light my favourite candles (I got a beautiful, scented candle by The Westbury hotel as a Christmas present) and get a good film on Netflix going.


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