Partly work and partly play
You must on St. Distaffs Day:
From the plough soon free your team;
Then cane home and fother them:
If the maids a-spinning go,
Burn the flax and fire the tow.
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.
When Robert Herrick published these lines in 1648, “St. Distaff’s Day” was still a familiar “holiday”–a day of easing back into work after 12 days of Christmas rest and celebration. However, by the 19th century, the day and the work it heralds were antiquities. Chamber’s Book of Days (1869) has to define both the distaff itself, and the reason for day. He writes
As the first free day after the twelve by which Christmas was formerly celebrated, the 7th
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