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Happy Twelfth Night! …Or Epiphany…Or St. Distaff’s Day!

Who?? St. Distaff??

Do you listen to Christmas Carols and decide you need to look up Wassail recipes? Do you love Morris Dancing at Winter Solstice Celebrations? Do you sing all the verses of Auld Lange Syne? Then I’ve got a great old tradition for you: Spin yarn on the day after Twelfth Night – that is St. Distaff’s day!


Factoid: The “12 days of Christmas” begin on Christmas. 12 days later is January 6: “Twelfth Night”. Yes, like the Shakespeare play. Another name that Twelfth Night goes by is Epiphany. If you are up on your Church history, you will know that this is when the Three Wise Men finally got to the manger in Bethlehem to see the Baby Jesus. I mention this mainly so that if you are looking for something good to eat on Twelfth Night, look for King Cakes, which usually have a little plastic baby (standing in for Jesus) or other trinket or, in some countries, a dry bean, hidden inside. The person who gets the trinket is the “king”. Wash your cake down a Wassail drink called “lambswool”! This is a strange sort of drink made with simmered ale, spices and apples. A perfect way to celebrate St. Distaff’s day.

And here’s another name for the Twelfth Night celebrations: Roc Day. “Roc” with no “k” refers to your spindle. Some sources give it as a Scandinavian word for distaff; some claim its origin goes back to using a “rock” as the whorl on your spindle. Either way, it is a great excuse to get with your buddies and spin – either on your wheel or your spindle. It is traditionally when folk returned to their labors after partying hard during the twelve days of Christmas.

But, those of you who have been lucky enough to take time off from your labors at during the Christmas holidays, and are just returning to your work can attest to the fact that motivation can be at a low ebb. Well, the same went for women who had suspended their spinning for 12 days during the holidays. So, St. Distaff’s Day was not usually very productive. According to tradition, the men scuttled spinning efforts by burning flax bundles (!) and the women retaliated by dumping cold water on the men. Sounds like a fun time! Every source talking about St. Distaff’s Day will quote a Robert Herrick poem. Some say he actually “invented” the celebration with this poem.

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.’

So relax, gather with your friends, have one last celebratory wassail draught, eat cake, and spin yarn. And welcome in the New Year! Cheers!