British Popular Customs Present And Past - online book

A calendar of the traditional customs, practices & rituals of the British Isles.

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Jan. 7,]                         PLough Monday.                                  37
Christmas; for our ancestors, it seems, returned to their work in a very leisurely manner. From Herrick's Hesperides (p. 374) we learn that the men, in boisterous merriment, burned the women's flax, and that they in retaliation dashed pails' of water upon the men :
"Partly work, and partly play Ye must on St. Distaffs Day: From the plough soone free your teame, Then home and fother them; If the maides a spinning goe, Bum the flax and fire the tow.
0             *             *             *
Bring in pails of water, then
Let the maides be wash the men;
Give St. Distaff all the night,
Then bid Christmas sport good night;
Then next morning, every one
To his own vocation."
Med. AEvi Kalend. vol. i. p. 138.
This was the name of a rustic festival, held the first Monday after Twelfth Day, formerly of great account in England, bearing in its first aspect, like St. Distaff's Day, reference to the resumption of labour after the Christmas holidays. In Catholic times, the ploughmen kept lights burning before certain images in churches to obtain a blessing on their work; and they were accustomed on this day to go about in procession, gathering money for the support of these plough lights, as they were called. The Reformation put out the lights, but it could not extinguish the festival. The peasantry contrived to go about in pro­cession, collecting money, though only to be spent in conviviality in the public-house. It was at no remote date a very gay and rather pleasant-looking affair. A plough was dressed up with ribbons and other decorations—the Fool plough. Thirty or forty stalwart swains, with their shirts over their jackets, and their shoulders and hats
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