The Hymns and Carols of Christmas

Partly Work and Partly Play

Saint Distaff's Day

Or, The Morrow After Twelfth Day

Words: Robert Herrick (1591-1674)

Poem 4 of 7 of Christmas Customs from Herrick

Source: William Henry Husk, Songs of the Nativity (London: John Camden Hotten, 1868)

Partly work and partly play
Ye must, on St. Distaff's day;
From the plough soon free your team,
Then come home and fodder 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

Husk's Note:

It is scarcely necessary to observe that the name of St. Distaff will not be found in the calendar. The name was applied to this day as being that on which, as the first after the Christmas holidays, the women resumed the distaff and recommenced their usual employment. As, after a cessation from work, people are sometimes reluctant either to resume it themselves, or to allow others to do so, so it appears to have been customary on this day for the indolent amongst the men to set fire to the flax and tow of the more industrious of the fair sex, in retaliation for which the damsels brought pails of water and threw over the men.

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