“There's a race of men that don't fit in, A race that can't sit still; So they break the hearts of kith and kin, And they roam the world at will. They range the field and rove the flood, And they climb the mountain's crest; Their's is the curse of the gypsy blood, And they don't know how to rest.”
- Robert Service

Monday, 7 January 2013

Hooray for Distaff Day!

Today is Distaff Day!


"Distaff day was traditionally the day whe women went back to work after the Christmas festivities. The men went back to work on Plough Monday, the first Monday after Twelfth Night. Except for the years when Twelfth Night fell on a Sunday, this meant that men got a longer holiday than women.
     Herrick wrote a poem for Distaff Day:

Partly worke and partly play
Ye must on S. Distaff day: 
From the plough soone free your teame;
Then come home and fother them.
If the maides a spinning goe,
Burne the flax, and free the tow:
Scorch their plackets, but beware
That ye singe no maiden-haire.
bring in pailes of water then,
Let the Maides bewash the men
Give S. Distaffe all the right,
Then bid Christmas sport good-night.
And next morrow, every one
To his owne vocation."

This information comes from a book I borrowed some time ago about traditional Christmases. I can't remember the book, but I had the mind to photocopy this page about the tradition of finishing off Christmastime and returning back to the business of the rest of the year. Here's some more:
Well, so that is that. Now we must dismantle the tree,
Putting the decorations back into their cardboard boxes -
Some have got broken - and carrying them up into the attic.
The holly and the mistletoe must be taken down and burnt,
And the children got ready for school. These are enough
Left pvers to do, warmed-up, for the rest of the week -
Not that we have much appetite, having drunk such a lot,
Stayed up so late, attempted - wuite unsuccessfully -
To love all of our relatives, and in general
Grossly overestimated our powers. Once again
As in previous years we have seen the actual Vision and failed
To do more than entertain it as an agreeable
Possibility. Once again  we have sent Him away,
Begging though to remain  His disobedien servant,
The promising child who cannot keep His word for long.
The Christmas Feast is already a fading memory,
And already the mind begins to be vaguely aware
Of an unpleasant whiff of apprehension at the thought
Of Lent and Good Friday which cannot, after all, now
Be very far off. But, for the time beng, here we all are,
Back in the moderate Aristotelian city
Of darning and the Eight-Fifteen, where Euclid's geometry
And Newton's mechanics would account for our experience,
And the kitchen table exists because I scrub it.
It seems to have shrunk during the holidays. The streets
Are much narrowers than we remembered; we had forgotten
The office was as depressing as this. To those who have seen
The Child, however dimly, however incredulously
The Time Being is, in a sense, the most terrifying time of all.
For the innocent children who whispered so excitedly
Outside the locked door where they knew the presents to be
Grew up when it opened. now, recollecting that moment
We can repress the joy, but the guilt remains conscious;
Remembering the stable where for once in our lives
Everything became a You and nothing was an It.
And craving the sensation but ignoring the cause,
We look round for something, not matter what, to inhibit
Our self-reflection, and the obvious thing for that purpose
Would be some great suggering. So, once we have met the Son,
We are tempted ever after to pray to the Father:
'Lead us not into temptation and evil for our sake'.
They will come all right, don't worry; probably in a form
That we do not expect, and certainly with a force
More dreadful than we can imagine. In the meantime
There are bills to be paid, machines to keep in repair,
Irregular verbs to learn, the Time Being to redeem
From insignificance. The happy morning is over,
The night of agony still to come; the time is noon:
When the Spirit must practice his scale of rejoicing
Without  even a hostile audience, and the soul endure
A silence that is neither for not against her faith
That God's Will will be done, that, in spite of her prayers,
God will cheat no one, not even the world of its triumph"
                            W.H. Auden (For the Time Being) 1944

So today we put away all of the trappings of Christmas and get on with the year. We'll do our best to remember as we scrub our tables and learn "irregular verbs," and generally trudge on with our busy little lives.

By the way - this makes me full all the better about not stripping down the tree and the ornaments the second Christmas Day passed. You're not expected to do that until Distaff day!

Other sources:
Wiki: Distaff Day
Distaff Day
What's a distaff?

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