- Plough Monday
- The first Monday after *Twelfth Day (6 January) and in rural communities this was traditionally the day on which farmworkers prepared to go back to work after the Christmas break, and to start the all-important task of ploughing the fields ready for sowing later in the year. The day itself had its own customs, including one in which one of the farm lads had to get into the kitchen and place one of the tools of his trade at the screen, or fireplace, before the maid had put the early morning water on to boil (see Tusser, 1580/1878 edn.: 180). More common, however, was some form of ceremony involving a plough. In many areas there was a 'common plough', housed in the church, which could be used by any smallholder too poor to own one himself. At New Year or Plough Monday the plough would be blessed by the parish priest and then decorated and paraded around the neighbourhood by the ploughboys of the local farms. Money collected by these men went to maintain the 'plough lights' which were candles kept burning in the church to ensure continued divine blessing on this essential operation in the farming cycle. The Reformation of the church in the 16th century abolished both the lights and the plough blessing, and also removed the ecclesiastical sanction for the plough procession, but the latter continued, or was revived, by the farmworkers now collecting money on their own behalf - to be spent on drink and merrymaking. The procession and plough were the main focus, but the custom took on divergent forms, with some teams performing versions of *plough plays, others simply dancing and singing or reciting rhymes. The first known reference to the plough procession dates from January 1413, in Durham, but it is not until the 18th century that informative descriptions of the custom become available.■ Hutton, 1996: 124-33; Wright and Lones, 1936: i. 93-103; E. C. Cawte, 'It's an Ancient Custom - but How Ancient?', in Buckland and Wood, 1993: 37-56.
A Dictionary of English folklore. Jacqueline Simpson & Steve Roud. 2014.
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