Plough Monday traditionally marked the end of the midwinter festivities. The Twelve Days of Christmas were over: on the Monday after Epiphany, it was time to return to work. But in medieval England, it was an excuse for agricultural labourers to make money at a hard time of year. Ploughmen were meant to report early for duty at the start of the new planting season. Instead they would drag a decorated plough around the village, shouting “Penny for the Plough!” They were often accompanied by a boy acting the Fool, who wore animal skins and carried a pig’s bladder on a stick; and a man dressed as an old woman, known as the Bessy. This echoes the characters typically found in modern pantomimes. Participants dressed in motley costumes and blackened their faces with soot. This disguise protected them from repercussions when they ploughed up the front garden of any householder who declined to contribute. In Cambridgeshire and Norfolk, the ploughboys performed ‘molly dances’; in the East Midlands they put on mummer’s plays. Their first takings went towards a ‘plough light’, a candle in the local church; the rest were spent on ale. Revellers feasted on ‘Plough Pudding’, a boiled suet pudding containing meat and onions. The Plough Monday customs declined in the 19th century but have been revived in the 20th, though they are now usually held on a Saturday – ensuring that participants can report for work on time!
Plough Monday is a good time to ‘put your hand to the plough’ and start a new project. Good luck with those New Year Resolutions!
‘LifeWorks‘ is about using myth and archetype to develop your life story. Visit my Author Page and follow me on Twitter @janebaileybain. If you like this post, leave a comment and use the buttons below to Share on Twitter, Facebook and Stumbleupon.