Back in the old days when just about everyone lived and worked on the land, the first Monday after Epiphany was Plough Monday. This was the day when the men returned to their ploughs and farmwork in general. According to the Old Farmer’s Almanac, it was traditional “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. One proverb notes that
‘Yule is come and Yule is gone,
and we have feasted well;
so Jack must to his flail again
and Jenny to her wheel.’ “ (p. 142 of 2011 Almanac)
In fact, our female ancestors were meant to have gone back to work on Distaff Day, January 7th. The day was named after one of women’s main tasks, spinning. What puzzles me is the implication that they had had some time off their domestic duties, which I find hard to imagine!
I recently discovered that there’s a similar tradition in Ireland, “Nollaig na mBan,” [Women’s Christmas] celebrated on Epiphany, January 6th. On this day, the men take over the women’s work and women meet up with their female friends and relations to celebrate “Little Christmas”. You can read more about this on Diary of a Country Wife’s blog, here. She says that the tradition is still strong in County Cork. Many of her Irish readers left comments saying they had happy memories of Nollaig na mBan.
Last Thursday was meant to be my Plough Monday: the Dafter was back in school and I had a clear three hours for some much-longed-for writing time. Just as I was settling back in, the kettle exploded! We replaced the fuse and it exploded even more spectacularly. I then spent all the rest of the morning searching for the receipt, as it was still under warrantee. I was very annoyed because my filing system let me down, and I resented having to give up my precious writing time to domesticity.
But then I had to reflect that in comparison to almost all women in the past, and to most women in the world today, I am incredibly fortunate to have the luxury of time to myself to write, blog, knit for fun and so on. I don’t have to spin, sew all our clothes, grow all our veg, haul water or build fires. Oh if my great-granny May could see me now!
Happy Plough Monday!