Sunday, 6 January 2008

Little Women's Christmas

Today is the feast of the ephiphany, the day baby Jesus got his presents from the Magi. At least that's how I thought of it as a child, as the three wise men figures in our nativity scene inched forward day by day until finally arriving at the crib on the 6th of January. I used to feel quite sorry for little baby Jesus, I didn't understand why he had to wait so long for his presents when Santy brought ours on Christmas morning. And then to just get gold and frankincense and myrrh. Poor baby I used to think, passing the crib.

This is also an important day in Cork, where I'm from, because it's Little Women's Christmas (or Women's Little Christmas, as we call it in our house). It's Oiche Nollaig na mBan in Irish - most Irish students should be familiar with Sean O Riordain's famous poem of the same name. It's a day when men took over household and family chores, allowing women to get together and socialise. In bygone days even respectable women could go to the pub, to enjoy a few drinks and a sing song with female friends. Nowadays, the pubs and restaurants of Cork are still full of women celebrating together on this night. My mother, originally from Limerick, says it's not really celebrated in Limerick, so it was a new tradition to her when she moved to Cork in the late Sixties. From what I gather from speaking with friends from other parts of Ireland, it's celebrated most strongly in Cork. So I particularly associate it with Cork, part of my proud Corkonian heritage!

And epiphany, while not a new word to me, is such an interesting one to blog about, as it works on a religous, personal and literary level. According to, it means the following:

1. (initial capital letter) a Christian festival, observed on January 6, commemorating the manifestation of Christ to the gentiles in the persons of the Magi; Twelfth-day.
2. an appearance or manifestation, esp. of a deity.
3. a sudden, intuitive perception of or insight into the reality or essential meaning of something, usually initiated by some simple, homely, or commonplace occurrence or experience.
4. a literary work or section of a work presenting, usually symbolically, such a moment of revelation and insight.

Its origins lie in the late 13th century, from Middle English epiphanie, from Old French, from Late Latin epiphania, from Greek epiphaneia, 'manifestation', from epiphainesthai, 'to appear': epi-, forth; + phainein, phan-, 'to show'

I had always known of the feast of the Epiphany, as even someone as lapsed as myself knows it's a holy day of obligation for Catholics. But I hadn't realised it had other meanings, meanings that could help my reading, and even apply to moments I experience myself, until my late teens. It was in English class, when I was 17, that our teacher brought it up. I think it was House of the Spirits we were studying, but it could have been 100 Years of Solitude or the Borges' stories we read that year. But the word struck me as so useful that its meanings have stayed with me.

And as it was an epiphany experienced while reading the Saturday paper that set me blogging, it seems an especially useful word to me at the moment.

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