What is ’Little Christmas’ and why do some Highlanders celebrate it?

Christmas used to be celebrated on January 6. Picture: Toby Williams
Christmas used to be celebrated on January 6. Picture: Toby Williams
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JANUARY 6 is widely known as the Feast of the Epiphany - but it’s also known as Little Christmas, or Là Challuinn in Gaelic.

Under the Julian Calendar, Christmas Day was celebrated on January 6.

The feast day is celebrated on December 25 under the Gregorian Calendar in use today.

But the eastern tradition of celebrating the birth of Christ on January 6 can be traced back prior to the creation of the Gregorian Calendar by hundreds of years.

By 1500AD, eastern churches celebrated Christmas on January 6 while their western counterparts chose December 25 - even though the Julian Calendar was being used by both.

Traditionally the end of the Christmas season, January 6 was, until the year 2013, the last day of Christmas holidays for schools in Ireland.

Là Challuinn

In the Scottish Highlands, the name Little Christmas, or Nollaig Bheag in Gaelic, is applied to New Year’s Day - which is also known as Là Challuinn, or Là na Bliadhna Ùire.

The Epiphany is known as the Feast-Day of Kings (Là Féill nan Rìgh).

But the Transalpine Redemptorists, who lived on Papa Stronsay in Orkney, celebrated Little Christmas on the twenty-fifth day of every month, apart from December 25, which is celebrated as Christmas Day.

Some Scottish Highlanders still observe the traditional celebration to this day.

Women’s Christmas

The day is also referred to as Women’s Christmas, or Women’s Little Christmas, in Ireland, particularly in Cork and Kerry.

It is so-called for the tradition of Irish men taking on the household duties for the day, while women hold parties or go out with friends and female relatives to celebrate the occasion.

Today, a number of events throughout Ireland and the United States, will celebrate women’s contributions to home, community, health, politics and business.