Distaff Day

Winter and the Moon of the New Year

Christmastide, Day 10: St. Distaff’s Day

Monday gratefuls: CBE services online. Kate’s sisters. Bridgerton. Writers. Books. Ovid. Tolstoy. Ford. Cather. Oliver. Shelley. Whitman. Emerson. Camus. Berry. Electricity. Lights. Darkness. Stars. Ruth’s wisdom teeth. Out today. 16 days. Farewell, so long. Auf wiedersehen. Please be a stranger. Welcome, sanity.



Distaff day. Not sure about the St. That sounds like a Catholic appropriation to me. A quick search indicates that’s correct. There is no St. Distaff. The addition of St. to this more ancient day reveals patriarchal and misogynistic appropriation. Not to put too fine a point on it.


Partly work and partly play
Ye must on S. Distaff’s day:
From the plough soon free your team,
Then come home and fodder them.
If the maids a-spinning go,
Burn the flax and fire the tow;
Scorch their plackets, but beware
That ye singe no maidenhair.
Bring in pails of water, then,
Let the maids bewash the men.
Give S. Distaff all the right,
Then bid Christmas sport good-night;
And next morrow everyone
To his own vocation.

Robert Herrick, Hesperides


Written in the 17th century by poet and cleric, Robert Herrick, this poem gives you the essence of Distaff Day. On this day the Midwinter festival came to an end. Women returned to spinning and weaving. Hence, distaff day. The men, a few days later, would celebrate Plough Monday when they returned to the fields with their teams of oxen.

A return to ordinary time. To domestic and agricultural labors. But not without some play. On Distaff day the men would set fire to the flax or wool the women tied to their distaffs for spinning. The women would have buckets of water ready. To put out the wool and flax, yes, but also to dump on the rowdy young men. Not sure, but it seems neither gender was quite ready to give up the play of the festival time.

Plough Monday, the traditional start of agriculture in England, fell on the first Monday after the Epiphany. This year Plough Monday falls on January 11th. A plough might be pulled through the village by young men, one dressed as a Fool and another as a purser.

The purser would go from house to house collecting money. If the money received seemed adequate, the young men would plow an acre, then dance around it. If the villagers were miserly, they would plow up the street.

I’ve been readying my space for a return to ordinary time after Christmastide. Each morning I’ve taken down a bit of the decorating I did. This morning I removed two wooden bowls in which I’d placed Christmas ornaments. On other days I’ve returned Santa globes to their shelves, folded up Christmas cloth and packed it away.

Tomorrow: the Eve of the Epiphany

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