St. Distaff’s Day

By , January 8, 2013

Once upon a time, today was known as Saint Distaff’s Day. The first and second working days after Twelfth Night marked the traditional return to regular work. For men, Plow Monday marked a return to the fields, and St. Distaff’s Day marked a return to “women’s” work, primarily spinning.

spinning with a drop spindle

Unlike her foremothers, Aly started spinning on Christmas day, with her brand new drop spindle (Photo: Mark Zeiger).

I’ve mentioned St. Distaff’s Day in the blog before, when I mistakenly included it as one of the Twelve Days of Christmas. I got this from a favorite source on archaic Yuletide traditions, John Matthews, but I’ve discovered that he’s not entirely accurate on all points. While researching the drop spindles I made for Aly, I learned the proper position and purpose of the day.

It’s significant that somewhere along the way The Church sanctified the distaff, which is not a person, but a stick. A distaff used to hold the raw wool, flax, or other fibers to be spun by drop spindles. This is also why this day used to be called “Rock Day,” which Matthews also didn’t understand. In medievel times, drop spindles, which were often weighted by a rounded stone, were called “rocks.” With my own biases, I can’t quite understand why the distaff would be sanctified rather than the spindle, but I wasn’t around for that particular vote . . . .

At any rate, it’s nice to have a couple of days to ease us away from the Christmas season, so as not to quit cold turkey (as it were). Also, we get to add another obscure little day to add to our long list.

We packed up our decorations Sunday afternoon, and have been returning to the regular work and play of the homestead in a variety of ways.

Funny, too, that although I’ve spoken before of the first part of January as the cold, icy front porch of winter, our weather over much of the last week has been downright balmy, with daytime highs close to 40° and rain. It feels more like April than January at the moment. The irises are even sprouting in the dooryard garden. I’m not sure, but I think I saw a mosquito in the outhouse yesterday morning! The weather forecast indicates we’ll be back to January weather soon.

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