Saint Distaff's Day, or the morrow after Twelfth Day

PARTLY work and partly play
Ye must on Saint 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 maiden-hair.
Bring in pails of water then,
Let the maids bewash the men.
Give Saint Distaff all the right,
Then bid Christmas sport good-night
And next tomorrow every one
To his own vocation.

Allen Tate (1899-1979)

This song for the feast day of St Distaff reflects what folklorist Charles Kightly called a jocular canonization of an important household tool.

The poet encourages people to ease back into their customary occupations, making January 7 the equivalent of a modern half day. The day was meant for people to slowly make their way back into the daily work routines. Sounds like a good idea to me and if you're lucky enough to be working you might want to run this idea by the boss. It was celebrated in England the day after Epiphany. After the twelve day Yuletide on the 13th day, January 7 was Saint Distaff's Day.

Now there really never was a Saint Distaff and truth be told distaff is an older word for spindle on which wool or flax was wound in the process of spinning. The use of the word dates from the fourteenth century and was a type of women's work or occupation. So much so, that the word became a term distaff side for symbolization of the female sex and the female genealogy of her family. Since there was no real St. Distaff and because there was no real need for anything special to wind the thread around just about any old rock might do so January 7th is also called Rock Day.

In the sixth line flax is a fiber from the plant for which thread is spun which was used to make linens and fine writing paper. Tow is the coarse part of the flax which was prepared for spinning and plackets in the next line are slit like openings through an apron like garment for reaching into pockets or to fasten garments underneath.


Public Domain text taken from the Poet’s Corner:


St. Distaff’s Day is the day immediately after Three Kings, in the Anglican tradition. A private, rather than a public event, it marks the first day that women go back to normal housekeeping.

Take down anything Christmassy. If you have a garden, the boughs of the Christmas Tree make fine ground cover for your plots. Your wreath, ditto. Everything must go. Into the fire, the compost, storage...

After noon, they get the day off. Since men don’t have their official work day until Plough Day next Monday, they (and the rest of the family) are supposed to spend the day playing pranks on each other. This isn’t always an option, nor is it a good idea.

Pranking aside, it might be a nice idea to ease Mom into Ordinary Time with pampering.Let her have a wonderful time off, with spa facials, letting her off whatever duties she has, whether cleaning, driving, or whatever else.Let her have bubble baths, Prosecco, and rom-coms, (or Lady Huskies)..

Or a family pajama party! Make a fort, with whatever’s available, eat festive leftovers, takeout, or comfort food, cooked by the family. Listen to nursery rhymes and lullabies, tell fairy tales, play silly games… Whatever you have, it’s yours.Just don’t start celebrating all over again!

Don’t listen to those who claim that Candlemas (or Pagan equivalent) is the true end of Christmastide, and you can keep your decorations up until then. Enough is enough.Whatever kind of “season of celebration” you might envision, (to keep away from the horrid idea that religion might have any ideas otherwise) you’re still going to be actively working to make them happen.

You deserve better. Again, Enough is enough.

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