Tomorrow is “St. Distaff’s Day”

Ha ha ha!

As if we Catholics didn’t have a tradition wealthy with Saints’ days and feasts, we also have a “made-up” saint’s day as well for the transition back to the normal routine after Christmas: January 7 is “St. Distaff’s” Day, or Roc/Rock Day, both names called after the tool women used when spinning.

Long ago, the entire time between Christmas and Epiphany was devoted to resting and celebrating with family. As of January 7, however, the rest for the housewives was over. Back to the distaff to spin the wool and flax! (The distaff was a tool made of wood that women used to wrap thread they spun from wool or flax fibers.)  But the men did not have to return to work yet: they were free until the Monday after Epiphany called “Plough Monday” when their ploughs were blessed and they were sent back to the fields with them.

So, here were towns and homes filled with working women and resting men–what do you think happened? Plenty of pranks and practical jokes. Often one of the men would set fire to the work that the women were spinning, which I’m sure was annoying, as well as very dangerious! The English poet Robert Herrick commemorates this time of the year in verse:

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 morrow, every one

To his own vocation.

It seems that the ladies were prepared for this eventuality and had buckets of water to pour on their burning flax and on the pesky men!

What a wonderful way to end the season of Christmas revelry. I will go back to work with an extra smile on my face thinking of this. How wonderful it is to plug ourselves into the glorious traditions of our Christian Culture!


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