Forgotten Remembrances: The 6 January "Women's Christmas" (Nollaig na mBan) and the 6 January 1839 "Night of the Big Wind" (Oíche na Gaoithe Móire) in "The Dead"
- James Joyce Quarterly
- The University of Tulsa
- Volume 54, Number 3-4, Spring-Summer 2017
- pp. 241-274
- View Citation
- Additional Information
Gabriel, the embodiment of Anglicized, Ultramontane, Edwardian Dublin, initially seems unaware of the elided remembrances that haunt the Epiphany festivities of "The Dead." In parallel to the western Christian liturgical calendar that celebrated 6 January as the Epiphany, an alternate folk calendar observed it as "Women's Christmas" (Nollaig na mBan), the one day on which women took a break from the season's household chores and ate together. 6 January was also the anniversary of the worst storm in Irish recorded history, the "Night of the Big Wind" (Oíche na Gaoithe Móire), an 1839 catastrophe in which the meteorologically rare event of snow falling all over Ireland was just the beginning of the horrific weather. In retrospect, the deadly storm was popularly recollected to have been a harbinger of the Great Famine, and many survivors thought the Day of Judgment had arrived. Certainly, it appears to have been the first day of the End of Days for the Irish language and Gaelic culture the Famine swept away. The implicit invocation of the Famine in "The Dead"—via that catastrophe's association with another freak weather event on a previous 6 January—adds a frisson to the party's overabundance of food. Additionally, Gabriel's lack of deep appreciation for his aunts' hard work on what would have been their day of rest in an earlier Ireland comes strongly into view once the date's traditional significance for women is acknowledged. At the close, the forgotten trauma and commemorations of women and the rural poor return to haunt both Gabriel and the official calendar. "The Dead" evokes such memories on the anniversary of what the folk record indicated was the real beginning of the Famine and its accompanying cultural holocaust, which is the "Night of the Big Wind" on "Women's Christmas" in 1839.