FW: [arts_n_science_exchange] January Ramblings
- I found this interesting and thought that some of you might enjoy it.
From: Donald F. Harrington <donharrington@...>
Sent: 03 January 2003 14:48
Subject: [arts_n_science_exchange] January Ramblings
A selection of mostly un-verified observations from a variety of sources,
ranging from scholarly works to random web-sites.
It is a new year, bright and shiny with promise, and January is here
already! As the old poem says: "Janiveer - freeze the pot upon the fier"
and "As the day lengthens, The cold strengthens."
January, New Year's Day, was in medieval times the month of giving New
Year's gifts. These New Year's gifts, forerunners of modern Christmas
presents, appear in every full set of household accounts surviving from the
From the first of January to Twelfth Night, I hope your revels have been
exciting and fun. For Henry VIII in 1512 the Master of the Revels prepared
the pageant of "The Dangerous Fortress", a castle complete with towers,
bulwarks, iron chains, cannon, and a banner, inhabited by six ladies and
seven gentlemen in yellow and russet, six lords in gold and russet, and
twelve great nobles in yellow and blue.
But the party's soon over and there's going to be plenty of work for the
peasants in January. Idle hands, and all that. Plough Monday is the Monday
in the first full week after the Feast of Epiphany and marks the return of
farm labourers to work in the fields. Now was the time when traditionally
men would take ploughs back into the fields to turn over the frozen ground
before it thawed and became too muddy to work.
On the Sunday the plough was often dragged into Church and blessed by the
priest, although there are plenty of records of priests who objected to this
sort of pagan thing. One writer remonstrates against the "conjuring of
plows". The plow was dragged through the streets and money collected for
the parish funds. Other celebrations ensued, with one anonymous cleric
complaining about "leading of the plough abouten the fire as for good
beginning of the year". One custom involved a race game between the young
men and the young women, whereby the ploughmen tried to put an object beside
the fire before the young women could put a kettle of water onto it: the
maidens succeeded or failed in gaining a prize according to the result.
January 12th gives us St. Distaff's Day, named after a tool rather than an
individual. Women would resume their spinning after Yule on this day, as the
old poem reminds us, "Partly work and partly play, Ye must on Saint
St. Agnes' Eve falls on January 21st. Young maids, by observing certain
rituals before retiring on this night, ensure that (if they take care to
sleep on their backs) they will dream of their future husbands. (St. Agnes
is the patroness of maidens.) Some of the rituals might include fasting all
day and then at night eating a salt-filled, hard-boiled egg (including the
shell!). If the maiden didn't fancy the salty and shelled egg, she could
replace it with a raw red herring. Yum!
January 25th is St. Paul's Day. Many people believed you could predict
weather on St Paul's Day:
"If Saint Paul's Day be faire and cleare
It doth betide a happy yeare;
But if by chance it then should rain
It will make deare all kinds of grain;
And if ye clouds make dark ye skie,
Then neats and fowles this yeare shall die;
If blustering winds do blowe aloft,
Then wars shall trouble ye realm full oft."
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