Monday, January 14, 2013

Plowing Through Monday

Today was the traditional start of the agricultural year in England, and so was known as “Plough Monday” or the day after “Plough Sunday” which was the Sunday following Epiphany. This was when everyone would end the Christmas revelry and get back to work. John Brand, in his 1777 book Observations on Popular Antiquities, gives an account of the formalities:

The FOOL PLOUGH goes about: a pageant consisting of a number of sword dancers dragging a plough, with music; one, sometimes two, in very strange attire; the Bessy, in the grotesque habit of an old woman, and the Fool, almost covered with skins, a hairy cap on, and the tail of some animal hanging from his back. The office of one of these characters, in which he is very assiduous, is to go about rattling a box amongst the spectators of the dance, in which he receives their little donations.

Well, maybe not directly back to work. Personally, though, I'd rather be molly dancing.

What is that, you ask?

“Molly dancing” traditionally only appeared during the depths of winter and is regarded by many people as the East Anglian form of Morris dancing. It is characterized by blackened faces, heavy boots (usually hobnailed) and the presence of a "Lord" and a "Lady", two of the men specially attired respectively as a gentleman and his consort, who lead the dances. Blackening faces was a form of disguise, since the dancers could not afford to be recognised. Some of those people from whom they had demanded money with menaces would have been their employers. Molly dancing is by nature robust and, some would say, aggressive. These qualities are emphasised by the sound of the hobnailed boots worn by the dancers, which were the normal form of footwear for farm workers in the East of England right up until the second half of the twentieth century. (Information courtesy alexandersanders.)

On a promising note, and according to the Olde Farmer's Almanac: “In the evening, each farmer provided a Plough Monday supper for his workers, with plentiful beef and ale for all.

They could do worse.
 

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