Winter Meditation #3 – Distaff Day, Plough Monday

While searching for a quote that spoke to me for today’s post, I ran across a couple of entries in the 2013 Farmers’ Almanac. I wanted to share these with you. So often we forget how very much things have changed in our country over the past one hundred years.

The Industrial Revolution changed everything, drawing farmers’ into the cities from the fields, offering jobs for people who had always lived in the country. Granted, those jobs often paid little, required long hours of work, and poor working conditions. (There were no laws that benefitted workers at that time. Employers paid as little as they liked and required 12 hour work days, often seven days a week with no benefits.)

That’s not to say things were perfect out on the farm either. It was a hard life, and Distaff Day and Plough Day remind us of the never-ending work of all members of the farm family. 

Step back in time with me and learn about “Distaff Day” and “Plough Monday.”

January 7 – “Distaff Day” This was the first day after Epiphany (January 6,) when women were expected to return to their spinning following the Christmas holiday. A distaff is the staff that women used for holding the flax or wool in spinning. (Hence the term ‘distaff’ refers to women’s work or the maternal side of the family.)

Also January 7 (this year) – “Plough Monday” Traditionally, the first Monday after Epiphany was called Plough Monday because it was the day when men returned to their plough, or daily work, following the Christmas holiday. (Every few years, Plough Monday and Distaff Day fall on the same day. Like today.)

It was customary at this time for farm laborers to draw a plough through the village, soliciting money for a “plough light,” which was kept burning in the parish church all year. The traditional verse captures the spirit of it:

“Yule is come and Yule is gone,
and we have feasted well;
so Jack must to his flail again
and Jenny to her wheel.”

(Perhaps things are not quite so different in farming families, even today. There certainly is ‘time out’ for farming chores and animal care, is there?)

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