In Ireland, Little Christmas is celebrated on 6 January. This is also the date of Twelfth Night, Epiphany, in the Christian tradition.
The tradition is strongest in Cork and Kerry, where on that day the men do all the housework while the women go out to celebrate with their female friends, sisters, mothers and aunts.
Restaurants and bars are packed with women, who buy gifts for their mothers and grandmothers.
In Bulgaria and Serbia, the Feast of Babinden, Baba’s day, is celebrated on 8 January.
Baba means mother, grandma and midwife in Serbian: the person who gave birth to or nurtured you.
Baba also means rocks, mountains and Mother Earth – the one who nurtures us all.
All those who assist during birth and the women who have given birth during the year are honoured at Babinden.
In the morning, the women go out to get fresh water and basil and geranium leaves.
These plants have antibacterial properties, and water infused with them becomes more or less sterile.
They then bring soap and a towel and go to the home of the woman who helped at their birth to wash her.
It’s interesting that this ritual purification of midwives with sterile water reveals the existence of ancient knowledge about the importance of cleanliness in connection with childbirth.
Did our female ancestors know what modern science completely missed for hundreds of years?
The deadly disease of childbed fever only appeared after male doctors started to assume control of childbirth.
“A gentleman’s hand was always clean,” was the unquestioned wisdom, and as most doctors were “gentlemen” dirty hands couldn’t possibly be the cause of the escalation in deaths in childbirth.
Many doctors went straight from autopsies to oversee a birth, and their examination of women spread the deadly disease, leading women to be hospitalised in crowded conditions, fuelling the contagion further.
This is in fact the primary reason that women give birth in hospital today: the usurpation of birth support by those with no experience of its unique requirements.
Perhaps these wise women already knew that childbirth must be protected from what we today call bacteria?
Although my question is really rhetorical, it serves to illustrate a small fragment of the women’s wisdom that’s been lost to patriarchal structures.
The women then present the soap and towel to the midwife as a gift.
But she doesn’t dry her hands on the towel – instead she uses a woman’s skirt.
According to tradition, this will ensure an easy next pregnancy, birth and breastfeeding for the woman whose skirts are used.
Then midwife is then presented with a bouquet of geraniums.
Geranium is antiseptic, increases fertility and relieves menstruation and menopause symptoms.
The Latin root ‘gero‘ also includes the meaning of ‘food‘.
After the ritual washing of the midwife, she’s invited to a feast.
All the women who’ve given birth during the year honour the midwife with a meal of bread, pies, chicken and wine.
They all kiss her hand and eat together.
When the women have finished eating, the men are invited to the table.
After the party, the midwife washes again, but this time in a stream or well.
She’s brought there in a wagon drawn by the men, and is dipped in the stream in a ritual celebrating closure of winter and the rebirth of the sun.
Traditionally, midwives were experienced, older women who had given birth to many children themselves.
Not so strange then that the word for grandma and midwife, baba, is the same.
Everyone then gathers in the centre of the village in a circle dance that represents the infinite cycle of life and the solar year.
The dance stretches through the village and ends at the house of the midwife.
Everyone kisses her hand again and gives her more gifts.
Gratitude and love are expressed to the woman who helps new life to be born.
These traditions show a now forgotten, more accurate, awe of Woman, Crone Wisdom, the Midwife and Mother Earth herself.
This is what’s missing today, as we ravage and exploit women and Mother Earth alike.
This is where our work now lies.
In facilitating the Return of the Divine Feminine in all of us, men and women alike.
It will heals us, and the Earth.
Do you hear Her calling?