07 January 2012

Saint Distaff's Day

Weather:  the weather today indicates the weather in July.

No, there is no Saint Distaff in the calendar.

This was the first day after Epiphany, when women resumed their spinning (and by extension, other chores relegated to last on the list of things to do for the past couple of weeks), the Christmas festivities being over.   A distaff is a tool used in spinning which holds unspun fibers of flax or wool and keeps them from tangling.  From the art (or chore) of spinning, we get two words relating to women: spinster, of course, and the distaff side.

The men, however, would not return to work until Plough Monday, which was sometimes the same day, but most often days later.  This left time for the hired men to play pranks on the maids as they resumed their domestic chores; the maids in retaliation would dump buckets of water on the pranksters.

Partly work and partly play
You must on St. 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 St. Distaff all the right:
Then bid Christmas sport good-night,
And next morrow every one
To his own vocation.
                                                    Robert Herrick

This would be an appropriate day to thank the women who make your life comfortable and productive.  Moms who did endless loads of your laundry, wondering if your clothes would corrode the inside of the washing machine and should be fumigated first.  Wives who take charge of Christmas, buying and wrapping presents, signing and mailing endless cards, organizing Christmas parties and dinners.  The dragon on the front desk who fields cold calls from people wanting to waste your time with "a sure deal that will help your business grow!"  The secretary who corrects grammar and punctuation so that your business correspondence presents a professional appearance to the world. Mothers who worked sometimes two jobs in order to pay the bills, but still found time to help you with that science project.

I'm sure you can find at least one woman to thank.  This year, I'm starting with the parish secretary.