Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Feast of St Distaff, a joke saint

Today was named by some medieval English comedian after an imagined saint, Distaff, and honours the distaff, a sort of yarn spinning device.

It was also called ‘Rock Day’ in England until the 19th Century, the custom being for women to return (after the Christmas holidays) to the spinning wheel (which was also called a ‘distaff’, or ‘rock’). Men went back to work on Plough Monday, the first Monday after Twelfth Day.

Today is the first day after the ‘twelve days of Christmas’ which began on Boxing Day (the Feast of St Stephen), December 26. The women having gone back to the distaff, or rock, the men would play the prank of setting the flax on fire; in retaliation the women would drench the men from their water pails.

Most women would spin whenever they had nothing else to do. Thus, women were associated with the distaff. Because an unmarried woman was likely to do a lot of this work rather than caring for children and other domestic duties associated with marriage and motherhood in those days, she was known as a spinster, a term that was commonly used in Australia until about the 1960s and until more recently could still be found in some official documents.

The spear side and the distaff side were legal terms for male and female children with regard to inheritance. There is a French proverb "The crown of France never falls to the distaff." ...

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