Distaff Day

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January 7: Distaff Day

The day after Epiphany (January 6) was traditionally the one on which women went back to work after the 12-day Christmas celebration. A distaff is the wooden rod (staff) that holds the flax or wool on a spinning wheel. The term distaff came to refer to both women’s work and the female branch (distaff side) of the family. As is often the case, it’s hard to go back to work after the holidays and not much got done! The women’s husbands would mischievously try to set fire to the flax on their wives’ distaffs, while the women, lying in wait, would retaliate with humor by dousing them with buckets of water. The English poet Robert Herrick wrote:

If the maids a-spinning goe
Burn their flax and fire their tow.
Bring the pails of water then
Let the maids bewash the men.