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‘I spent Nollaig na mBan cooking and cleaning, as a gift to myself’

‘I spent Nollaig na mBan cooking and cleaning, as a gift to myself’


by Dominique McMullan
06th Jan 2023

I didn’t get a break from cooking and cleaning on Nollaig na mBan, in fact I spent the day doing exactly that.

I cooked and I cleaned and I loved every minute of it, because on a regular day my house is a mess and we survive mostly on oven chips.

Nollaig na mBan falls on January sixth, and in English is known as Women’s Christmas. This is traditionally the day that women “get a break” from all the domestic chores they’ve been doing over the Christmas period.

I didn’t really cook much over the holidays. I spent Christmas and New Year with my wonderful in-laws in Mayo. But honestly, I didn’t really cook much in the whole of 2022. In fact, I have found that since becoming a mother, I have cooked less and less. I can cook, I actually love to cook, but it’s a luxury that I can’t seem to afford. For me, life as a working mum is more about survival than enjoying something as frivolous as cooking a meal for my family.

I am, of course, being facetious. I can feel that archetypal mother, with an apron around her waist, looming large on my shoulder. I thought I would be that mother. I truly believed I would spend most of my time at some sort of old fashioned stove. I thought I would conjure up delicious feasts, if not every night, then at least once-a-week. I imagined roast chicken and “special gravy” enjoyed around a worn but loved kitchen table. I thought meals would appear without thought, like they did for me as a child, every evening. But I couldn’t seem to manage it. And the reality of my life is very different – oven chips and fish fingers eaten in whispered tones at a “temporary” MDF slab. And that’s on a good night.

The busyness of mum life bumped food off my priority list. My partner and I quite literally came last on the food chain. Having a full on job, keeping a house (marginally) clean, keeping our clothes (marginally) clean, keeping our children (marginally) clean, paying the electricity bill, buying a much needed toilet plunger, figuring out the issue with the bins, pondering how to help my three-year-old sleep, etc etc etc – leaves no time for dauphinoise potatoes.

My working day is full on from the moment the boys head to creche. I close the door, clear up the breakfast chaos, put on a wash, sit down at my laptop, and work solidly through until lunch. I mostly eat convenience sandwiches, pastries and copious cups of coffee throughout the day. And then it’s pick up time, and I steel myself for a whirlwind three hours (that feels like a day in itself) before bedtime. One activity careens into another (coats, tantrums, toys, tears, crackers, bath, biting, pjs, books, bed), and before I know it, I am standing, yet again, in my kitchen with a half empty bag of oven chips and a slab of questionable cheddar.

On these days, finding the time to; 1) Find a recipe 2) Buy the ingredients 3) Prepare the ingredients 4) Cook the ingredients 5) Serve the meal – feels like Everest to me.

So this Nollaig na mBan, after two weeks of no childcare, I sent the boys off, booked annual leave from work, and cooked beautiful food all day. I also cleaned out the living room cupboards. I have never been happier.

The feminist in me would have screamed from the rooftops, had she been reading this a few years ago. She would have told me to go to a bar, or to take myself out for a fancy meal. To do something FUN, not drab and housewifey. But today felt like an important, small act of love, only for me.

In Katherine May’s beautiful book Wintering, she talks about the power of rest and retreat in difficult times. She talks about how, in winter, nature withdraws, asks little of itself, and gently builds itself back up for spring. It reminds the reader that we are in charge of taking care of ourselves. It reminds me that small acts, such as cooking a lovely meal, can nurture not just your body, but your soul – something so easily forgotten in the frenzy of my everyday life.

I cooked this Nollaig na mBan, because this year my only resolution is to love myself a little more. To fill my own cup, so I can fill others. I am cooking, because I love to cook and because I want to take care of my body. Today I made a rich beef curry, slow cooked chicken tacos, sweet carrot soup and roasted root vegetables. I am already planning my next cooking day. Women, please send on your recipes. Happy Nollaig na mBan.

Photography by Kam Idris on Unsplash.