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Last year, I wrote an extensive post on Plough Monday, which is the first Monday after Epiphany:

The English tradition of Plough Monday

I thought I had covered the waterfront with regard to this ancient festival but found more history about the day that signalled a return to full time agricultural work on the Tuesday.

Ploughing matches

When Plough Monday was widely celebrated, some farmers would have had their ploughs blessed at church on Sunday. Other villages had a communal plough at the church which was blessed annually.

In some areas, ploughing matches took place, which gathered crowds of onlookers. The Cottage at the End of a Lane has an old colour photo of one such contest, likely to have been in Suffolk.

The author points out:

The men who walked 10 miles a day in all weathers back in the day would have smiled to see people nowadays doing it for fun or to keep the memory alive. Most of them welcomed the arrival of tractors.

I bet they did.

Traditional poems

The Cottage at the End of a Lane also has a traditional poem:

Plough deep while sluggards sleep:
and you shall have corn to sell and keep.

Turn out for Plough Monday
Up, fellows now
Buckle the horses 
And Follow the plough. 

Plough Monday started with chores before everyone moved on to festivities. This was to show willingness to work hard in the year ahead. As I mentioned in last year’s post, a kitchen maid was given a cockerel for Shrovetide before Lent. A contest between the maids in the kitchen and the men in the fields took place to see if the maids could keep their cockerels. If one of the men was able to get some of his farming implements by the fireside before the kitchen maid got her kettle on, then she forfeited her cockerel — ‘cocke’ in the poem which follows.

In the 1500s, a gentleman farmer by the name of Thomas Tusser penned these lines, featured on Legendary Dartmoor:

Good huswives, whom God hath enriched ynough,

forget not the feasts that belong to the plough:

The meaning is only to joy and to be glad,

for comfort with labour is fit to be had…

Plough Monday, nest after that twelftide is past,

bids out with the plough, the worst husband is last:

If plowman get hatchet, or whip to the skreene,

maids loseth their cocke, if no water be seen.

Thomas Tusser (1524-1580) was born in Essex, the county to the east of London. He was part of the choir at St Paul’s Cathedral before studying at Eton and going up to King’s College, then to Trinity Hall, Cambridge, for his university education.

He spent ten years serving as a musician for William Paget, 1st Baron Paget of Beaudesart, before marrying and farming in Cattawade, Suffolk, near the River Stour. His first wife was sickly, and he abandoned farming so they could move to Ipswich. After her death, he remarried and resumed farming, with interruptions for illness or escaping the plague of 1572-1573. When he died in London in 1580, he owned a small estate at at Chesterton, Cambridgeshire. According to contemporary accounts, he not only farmed arable land but also raised livestock. He did not make much money and lived frugally.

Tusser wrote many agricultural poems which laid out the best traditional methods of farming and raising livestock, most famously in A Hundreth Good Pointes of Husbandrie, first published in 1557. In 1573, he expanded his original work and published Five Hundred Points of Good Husbandry.

Tusser most likely saw his fair share of Plough Mondays.

Devon customs

Legendary Dartmoor‘s post, ‘Plough Monday’, reveals a local custom that invokes ‘The Spirit of the Harvest’:

In order to add some extra clout to the devotions to the ‘Spirit of the Harvest’ it was also imperative to plough the ‘neck‘ or ‘corn dolly‘ which was taken from the previous harvest into the first furrow ploughed either on or just after Plough Monday. To do this would ensure a good harvest but to fail to observe this tradition was to invite ‘tare and rook’ to decimate the growing crop.

Another is more modern:

I don’t know if it was just a family thing but I can remember uncle always sprinkled a, “drap o’ firejuice,” on the plough shares before the first furrow was cut. It must have been a pretty serious belief because it was unheard of for any relation of old ‘John Barleycorn’ to go anywhere but down his throat.

This is encouraging:

It appears that the tradition of Plough Monday died out on the moor around the late 1900’s but the church blessing has been revived by some Young Farmer’s clubs.

Regional celebrations

In 2018, Plough Monday was January 8.


Durham held their festivities on Sunday, January 7 (photo at the link):

Come and join us in our drawing of the Plough from Durham Market Place to the Palace Green to be received by the Dean of Durham Cathedral.

There we’ll welcome in the traditional start of the agricultural year with Morris and Sword Dancing, Music and Ceremony!

Celebrations for Plough Sunday, a traditional English festival, are being revived in Durham this weekend. Drawing a plough into the Cathedral, they will be invited inside by the Dean, who will give them a commemorative four pence in a re-enactment of Plough Sunday celebrations that took place in 1413.

The afternoon will continue with a music session and bar at the John Duck, Claypath.

All welcome!

That sounds very traditional.


In Cambridgeshire, the village of Balsham revived Plough Monday festivities in 1972.

The Balsham Ploughmen site has their whole modern-day story. Incredibly, Plough Monday has been celebrated there every year since to raise money for charity.

In 1972, the original organisers studied the village plough, built between 1680-1720, and constructed a new one based on the design of the old one using 100-year-old wood.

The organisers and a team of volunteers go to houses and pubs to collect money and sell raffle tickets:

Money is collected at each stop and along the streets, from one end of the village to the other and there is a raffle at the finishing pub. However, the chief means of fundraising, which justifies such activity in what is usually one of the coldest nights of the winter, is the traditional “horseplay”. There is a great deal of banter among the Ploughmen, Cambridge Morris Men and the followers.

The cries of “pity the poor ole ploughboy” together with the rattle of collecting tins and the jingle of the Morris Men’s bells signals that Plough Monday is with us again.


The day following Plough Monday has evolved into “Harrowing Tuesday” when Ploughmen, members of the team and their families traditionally meet for lunch of bangers and mash and discuss the events of the previous evening – the name does tend to reflect the fragile state of the team rather than an agricultural reference.

The Balsham Ploughmen have been highly successful:

Plough Monday 2017 has broken all fundraising records!

We were once again out and about on 9th January 2017 with the Cambridge Morris Men fundraising for Balsham 2nd Brownies, Buttercups Community Pre-School and a village defibrillator …

This year’s total was a massive £3,219.50!

I hope they had another great success this year.

It is marvellous that people in England still care about Plough Monday, an ancient tradition that deserves to keep going for generations to come.


This week I learned of another old English tradition, St Distaff’s Day — the day after Epiphany.

While there is no St Distaff — a facetious name — January 7 was the day when women returned to spinning wool, flax or other fibres after the twelve days of Christmas.

A distaff is a ‘roc’ or ‘rock’ — a rod or dowel — used in spinning. It was used before spinning wheels were invented. It holds the unspun fibres and keeps them untangled. Wikipedia has an excellent entry with ancient illustrations of distaffs.

January 7 is also known as Distaff Day or Roc Day.

As spinning was a female occupation, the English language has two words emanating from it: spinster (never-married woman) and distaff (referring to the matrilineal branch of a family, e.g. ‘distaff half’ for ‘wife’). A distaff race means that all the horses running are female.

Breathing in books has a poem by Robert Herrick (1591-1674), which he wrote for January 7. It involves a custom of:

high jinks in which men and women engage in a battle of the sexes with the men trying to steal away and burn the women’s flax while the women respond by trying to throw water over the men (not much fun in January in my opinion!). However, [Steve] Roud [author of The English Year] points out that other, later, sources all seem very similar and vague and it seems likely that they all used Herrick’s poem as their sole source on the tradition.

This is Herrick’s poem:

St. Distaff’s Day or the Morrow After Twelfth Day

Partly work and partly play,
Ye must on S. Distaff’s day
From the plough soon free your team;
Then come home and fother them.
If the maids a spinning go,
Burn the flax, and fire the tow:
Scorch their plackets, but beware,
That ye singe no maiden-hair.
Bring in pails of water then,
Let the maids bewash the men.
Give S. Distaff all the right,
Then bid Christmas sport good night;
And next morrow, every one
To his own vocation.

In closing, the Monday after Epiphany is Plough Monday, which sometimes coincides with St Distaff’s Day, depending on the calendar year.

Tomorrow: More Plough Monday traditions

December 26 is full of history.

Before I begin, here is a beautiful painting of the Holy Family:

File:Bartolomé Esteban Perez Murillo 008.jpg

The Holy Family with dog, hangs in Madrid’s Museo del Prado. Bartolomé Esteban Murillo painted it between 1645 and 1650. He was born late December 1617, baptized January 1, 1618 and died on April 3, 1682.

Murillo was a prolific painter of both religious and secular themes. Until the 19th century, he was Spain’s best known artist. His work influenced many other European painters, including Gainsborough.

St Stephen’s Day

Stephen was the Church’s first martyr.

Students of the Bible and readers who have been following my series on Acts this year, will recall his story. Saul of Tarsus — St Paul — had a huge role to play in Stephen’s stoning.

Stephen was the first to offer an apologetic for a belief in Jesus:

Acts 7:2b-8 – Stephen, deacon, appearing before the court in the temple, apologetics, Abraham

Acts 7:9-16 – Stephen, temple court, apologetics, Joseph

Acts 7:17-22 – Stephen, temple court, apologetics, Moses

Acts 7:23-29 – Stephen, temple court, apologetics, Moses meeting with his people — the Israelites in slavery

Acts 7:30-34 – Stephen, temple court, apologetics, God, Jesus, Moses called from exile, burning bush

Acts 7:35-43 – Stephen, temple court, apologetics, God, Jesus, Moses the deliverer, Ten Commandments, idolatry

Acts 7:44-50 – Stephen, temple court, apologetics, the history of the temple, Moses, Joshua, King David, King Solomon. The post also includes the account of his stoning in the last few verses of Acts 7.

Acts 8:1-3 – Stephen, Saul, Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria

The following post explains more in video. Unfortunately, the first video is no longer available, but the others are:

St Stephen, the first martyr

In Europe, St Stephen’s Day has been one of popular celebrations, sometimes revelry, as it comes right after Christmas.

Boxing Day

Of course, here in Britain and parts of the Commonwealth, we celebrate Boxing Day:

Boxing Day – a history

One detail I discovered more about was the money box — Christmas box — from the 17th and 18th centuries:

A present or gratuity given at Christmas: in Great Britain, usually confined to gratuities given to those who are supposed to have a vague claim upon the donor for services rendered to him as one of the general public by whom they are employed and paid, or as a customer of their legal employer; the undefined theory being that as they have done offices for this person, for which he has not directly paid them, some direct acknowledgement is becoming at Christmas.[6]

I watched the BBC Two Christmas special, The Sweet Makers, in which historian Dr Annie Gray brought a Christmas box to show the bakers and confectioners. It was a painted terracotta box that one dropped on the floor to open. Dr Gray said that one recipient wrote in his journal that he made a year’s salary with that Christmas box alone. He was the exception, not the rule!

The origin of those boxes is unclear but involves one or more of the following traditions:

The European tradition, which has long included giving money and other gifts to those who were needy and in service positions, has been dated to the Middle Ages, but the exact origin is unknown. It is believed to be in reference to the Alms Box placed in areas of worship to collect donations to the poor. Also, it may come from a custom in the late Roman/early Christian era, wherein metal boxes placed outside churches were used to collect special offerings tied to the Feast of Saint Stephen,[9] which in the Western Church falls on the same day as Boxing Day.

Here is another:

Great sailing ships when setting sail would have a sealed box containing money on board for good luck. Were the voyage a success, the box was given to a priest, opened at Christmas and the contents then given to the poor.

Christmas carol — Good King Wenceslas

A popular traditional carol is Good King Wenceslas, which describes an event that took place on December 26.

(Image credit: Wikipedia)

Wenceslas (c. 907 – 935) was a duke in Bohemia. The Holy Roman Emperor Otto I elevated him to a king after his brutal death, largely for his piety, just government and famous works of charity.

Wikipedia tells us (emphases mine):

Wenceslas was considered a martyr and a saint immediately after his death in the 10th century, when a cult of Wenceslas rose up in Bohemia and in England.[3] Within a few decades of Wenceslas’ death, four biographies of him were in circulation.[4][5] These hagiographies had a powerful influence on the High Middle Ages conceptualization of the rex iustus, or “righteous king”—that is, a monarch whose power stems mainly from his great piety, as well as from his princely vigor.[6]

Referring approvingly to these hagiographies, a preacher from 12th century says:[7][8]

But his deeds I think you know better than I could tell you; for, as is read in his Passion, no one doubts that, rising every night from his noble bed, with bare feet and only one chamberlain, he went around to God’s churches and gave alms generously to widows, orphans, those in prison and afflicted by every difficulty, so much so that he was considered, not a prince, but the father of all the wretched.

Several centuries later the legend was claimed as fact by Pope Pius II,[9] who himself also walked ten miles barefoot in the ice and snow as an act of pious thanksgiving.[10]

Wenceslas’s long walk on December 26 is the subject of the carol:

“Good King Wenceslas” is a Christmas carol that tells a story of a Bohemian king going on a journey and braving harsh winter weather to give alms to a poor peasant on the Feast of Stephen (December 26, the Second Day of Christmas). During the journey, his page is about to give up the struggle against the cold weather, but is enabled to continue by following the king’s footprints, step for step, through the deep snow.

In 1853, an English high churchman, John Mason Neale, took the melody “Tempus adest floridum” (“It is time for flowering”), a 13th-century spring carol, and wrote the following verses, which might be a translation of a poem by Czech poet Václav Alois Svoboda:

Good King Wenceslas looked out, on the Feast of Stephen,
When the snow lay round about, deep and crisp and even;
Brightly shone the moon that night, tho’ the frost was cruel,
When a poor man came in sight, gath’ring winter fuel.

“Hither, page, and stand by me, if thou know’st it, telling,
Yonder peasant, who is he? Where and what his dwelling?”
“Sire, he lives a good league hence, underneath the mountain;
Right against the forest fence, by Saint Agnes’ fountain.”

“Bring me flesh, and bring me wine, bring me pine logs hither:
Thou and I shall see him dine, when we bear them thither.”
Page and monarch, forth they went, forth they went together;
Through the rude wind’s wild lament and the bitter weather.

“Sire, the night is darker now, and the wind blows stronger;
Fails my heart, I know not how; I can go no longer.”
“Mark my footsteps, good my page. Tread thou in them boldly
Thou shalt find the winter’s rage freeze thy blood less coldly.”

In his master’s steps he trod, where the snow lay dinted;
Heat was in the very sod which the saint had printed.
Therefore, Christian men, be sure, wealth or rank possessing,
Ye who now will bless the poor, shall yourselves find blessing.

The carol received widespread criticism for decades. That said, I’m glad it survived. I heard a choir sing it at our local Christmas lighting ceremony this year. It’s beautiful:

Poor Wenceslas — or Wenceslaus, real name Václav — was dogged by political and family problems. His own brother killed him.

His grandfather, Bořivoj I of Bohemia, converted to Christianity thanks to Sts Cyril and Methodius. Wenceslaus’s mother, Drahomíra,was a pagan who converted and was baptised when she married Vratislaus I, Duke of Bohemia. His paternal grandmother, Ludmila of Bohemia, was responsible for young Wenceslaus’s education.

Vratislaus I died when the boy was about 13. Ludmila became regent because Wenceslas was not yet old enough to succeed his father. Drahomíra became jealous of Ludmila, not only for her position but also for the influence she had over the boy. So, she had her mother-in-law murdered:

Ludmila was at Tetín Castle near Beroun when assassins murdered her on September 15, 921. She is said to have been strangled by them with her veil. She was at first buried in the church of St. Michael at Tetín, but her remains were later removed, probably by Wenceslas,[3] to the church of St. George in Prague, which had been built by his father.[4]

Mother-in-law out of the way, Drahomíra became regent and, oddly, began persecuting Christians. A few years later, at the age of 17 or 18, Wenceslas was able to rule in his own right. Note the reference to his brother below:

he took control of the government. He placed the duchy under the protection of Germany, introduced German priests, and favoured the Latin rite instead of the old Slavic, which had gone into disuse in many places for want of priests.[2] To prevent disputes between him and his younger brother Boleslav, they divided the country between them,[clarification needed] assigning to the latter a considerable territory.[4]

Wenceslas also exiled his wicked mother.

He had to contend with enemy rulers and adversarial regional alliances during his reign.

Worst of all was his murderous brother, Boleslav.

In September 935:

a group of nobles allied with Wenceslas’s younger brother Boleslav plotted to kill him. After Boleslav invited Wenceslas to the feast of Saints Cosmas and Damian in Stará Boleslav, three of Boleslav’s companions, Tira, Česta, and Hněvsa, fell on the duke and stabbed him to death.[5] As the duke fell, Boleslav ran him through with a lance.[4]

According to Cosmas of Prague, in his Chronica Boëmorum of the early 12th century, one of Boleslav’s sons was born on the day of Wenceslas’s death. Because of the ominous circumstance of his birth, the infant was named Strachkvas, which means “a dreadful feast”.[5]

What a man Wenceslas was. What a family he had. What piety and charity he displayed in the face of such adversity.

Along with her grandson, Ludmila was also elevated to sainthood. Ludmila is the patron saint of Bohemia, converts, duchesses, widows and, not surprisingly, those who have problems with in-laws.

Best wishes for a very happy Christmas to all my readers around the world! Have a marvellous day!

The painting above dates from 1622.  It is called Adoration of the ShepherdsGerard (Gerrit) van Honthorst, a Dutch Golden Age painter, studied in Italy and took his influences from Caravaggio’s use of chiaroscuro, as you can see from the way the light plays on the Holy Family and the shepherds.

Gospel reading

The Christmas Gospel reading is John 1:1-14, sometimes extending to John 1:18, which adds John the Baptist’s prophecy (verse 15) and this beautiful verse:

14And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.

These posts explain more:

Christmas Day — John 1:14 (with commentary from Matthew Poole)

Happy Christmas, one and all! (John 1:1-17)

More about Christmas

These posts have more reflections about Christmas:

Unto us a child is born

Compliments of the season to all my readers! (features Dr Paul Copan on the manger scene)

A Lutheran defence of Nativity scenes and crucifixes

Christmas prayer intentions

Martin Luther on the birth of Jesus

Angel imagery in Christmas carols (Dr Paul Copan on how the Bible portrays them)

Jesuit astronomer discusses the Star of Bethlehem (2016)

The Christmas tree — a history (related to Christianity)

Christmas gifts — a history (and a Christian defence thereof)

Christmas feasting and revelry (the rehabilitation of Christmas)

Christmas carols

Christmas would not be complete without carols:

‘O Come, All Ye Faithful’

‘God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen’

‘The Holly and the Ivy’

‘Hark the Herald Angels Sing’

‘Ding Dong Merrily on High’

I am adding a new one to the list.

I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day

The great American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote a poem, Christmas Bells, during the Civil War.

Accounts differ as to whether he composed the poem in 1863 or 1864, but, whatever the case, Longfellow’s life during the Civil War years was not a happy one.

What Saith the Scripture? has an excellent article from 2001 by Tom Stewart on Longfellow, his family, Christmas Bells and related Scripture verses. A summary and excerpts follow.

The Civil War started in April 1861. In early July, a lingering heat wave settled over the Boston area. The Longfellow family lived in neighbouring Cambridge, with Longfellow teaching at Harvard. The poet’s beloved wife Frances — Fanny — wrote in her journal on July 9 about their daughters:

We are all sighing for the good sea breeze instead of this stifling land one filled with dust. Poor Allegra is very droopy with heat, and Edie has to get her hair in a net to free her neck from the weight.

On July 10, Fanny cut 7-year-old Edie’s hair. The locks were so beautiful that Fanny decided to preserve them in sealing wax. Tragedy struck:

Melting a bar of sealing wax with a candle, a few drops fell unnoticed upon her dress. The longed for sea breeze gusted through the window, igniting the light material of Fanny’s dress– immediately wrapping her in flames.

Fanny ran from the room where Edie and Allegra were and dashed to Longfellow’s study. He tried frantically, but in vain, to extinguish the flames with a nearby throw rug, which was too small to be effective:

Failing to stop the fire with the rug, he tried to smother the flames by throwing his arms around Frances– severely burning his face, arms, and hands. Fanny Longfellow died the next morning.

Longfellow was still suffering from his burns when his wife’s funeral took place. He was also overcome by grief. He did not attend.

It was at this time that he began to grow his trademark beard:

Incidentally, the trademark full beard of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow arose from his inability to shave after this tragedy.

At Christmastime in 1961, he wrote:

How inexpressibly sad are all holidays.

On July 10, 1862 — the first anniversary of the incident — he wrote:

I can make no record of these days. Better leave them wrapped in silence. Perhaps someday God will give me peace.

On Christmas Day that year, he wrote:

A ‘merry Christmas’ say the children, but that is no more for me.

More sadness followed. Longfellow’s son Charles served as a lieutenant in the Army of the Potomac. Around Christmas 1863, Longfellow received news that Charles had been seriously injured:

with a bullet passing under his shoulder blades and taking off one of the spinal processes.


The Christmas of 1863 was silent in Longfellow’s journal.

By Christmas 1864, Charles was still alive, Abraham Lincoln had been re-elected and the Civil War was about to end. Longfellow was inspired to write Christmas Bells (emphasis mine below):

I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old, familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet
The words repeat
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along
The unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Till ringing, singing on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime,
A chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Then from each black, accursed mouth
The cannon thundered in the South,
And with the sound
The carols drowned
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

It was as if an earthquake rent
The hearth-stones of a continent,
And made forlorn
The households born
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And in despair I bowed my head;
“There is no peace on earth,” I said;
“For hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!”

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The Wrong shall fail,
The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men.”

Johnny Marks, a Jewish man who loved Christmas, wrote the music for I Heard The Bells On Christmas Day, recorded many times by various artists past and present. The lyrics were also amended to make them timeless. The following video has the Longfellow story (albeit with the 1863 date) and the 20th century carol we know:

Christmas news 2017

Christians in Baghdad are celebrating this year:

Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May has taken a leaf out of President Donald Trump’s playbook, emphasising Christianity, the military and first responders. On December 24, the Press Association reported:

Theresa May has urged Britons to take pride in the country’s Christian heritage at Christmas because it gives everyone the confidence to practice their religion “free from question or fear”.

In her Christmas message, the Prime Minister also paid tribute to the “heroes” in the emergency services who responded to the Grenfell Tower fire and “abhorrent” terror attacks in Manchester and London.

She also said:

And the thousands of volunteers in our country who will give up their time to make someone else’s Christmas that little bit better: from faith inspired projects like the Churches Together initiative in my own constituency – to aid workers helping those in war-torn parts of the world.

As we celebrate the birth of Christ, let us celebrate all those selfless acts – and countless others – that epitomise the values we share: Christian values of love, service and compassion that are lived out every day in our country by people all faiths and none.

Let us take pride in our Christian heritage and the confidence it gives us to ensure that in Britain you can practice your faith free from question or fear.

Let us remember those around the world today who have been denied those freedoms – from Christians in some parts of the Middle East to the sickening persecution of the Rohingya Muslims.

And let us reaffirm our determination to stand up for the freedom of people of all religions to speak about and practice their beliefs in peace and safety.

So this Christmas, whatever our faith, let us come together confident and united in the values we share. And wherever you are at this special time of year, let me wish you all a very happy Christmas.

I could be mistaken, but I do not recall a religious message from a Prime Minister in decades. Well done, Mrs May. May God bless you and your husband this Christmas and in the year ahead.

On Monday, November 27, 2017, First Lady Melania Trump welcomed a group of schoolchildren to the White House which she has transformed into a magical Winter Wonderland.

Ballet dancers performed selections from The Nutcracker Suite. The US Marine Corps band provided musical accompaniment. (Ignore the sarcasm from the CNN reporter’s caption.)

AP has a good video here of the dancers and Mrs Trump’s warm hugs for each child. She also sat down to talk and listen to their Christmas letters to the US military and helped them decorate Christmas wreaths:

This video shows more of Mrs Trump’s dress (see the back at 40 seconds in). There were two tables set up for the pupils, but the children at the second table quickly left to stand behind Mrs Trump at her table. One girl sat on her lap:

One child compared America’s first lady to an angel:

Indeed. Mrs Trump’s dress was perfect for the occasion:

The Gateway Pundit reported that the children are from Joint Base Andrews:

NBC News tweeted heartwarming footage of Melania Trump welcoming students from Joint Base Andrews at a White House Christmas event. The children were stunned as the angelic First Lady entered the room.

“Are you the first lady?!” a boy asked as he hugged Melania Trump.

“She seriously looks like an angel,” added another child.

Look at the kids run to her:

They clearly enjoyed being with her:

The White House issued a press release on this year’s Christmas decorations, excerpted below (emphases mine):

The First Family will celebrate their first Christmas in the White House with a nod to tradition. This year’s theme, “Time-Honored Traditions” was designed by First Lady Melania Trump to pay respect to 200 years of holiday traditions at the White House.

In the East Wing, visitors find a tribute to our service members and their families with the Gold Star Family Tree, which has been decorated with gold stars and patriotic ribbon. Visitors are encouraged to write a message to their loved ones who are on duty or abroad on the digital tablets provided.

After passing through the East colonnade, visitors will see the China Room, which honors the holiday traditions of dining and hospitality. The room is set up for a family Christmas dinner, with the table displaying the china from President Ronald Reagan. Then, visitors will see the Library, which features President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s 1866 edition of “A Christmas Carol,” as they recall the time-honored custom of reading Christmas stories to loved ones.

On the State Floor of the White House, the Grand Foyer and Cross Hall celebrate the first themed White House Christmas, which was the “Nutcracker Suite” in 1961. The Green Room honors the festivities of crafts, paper, and classic design. The Blue Room holds the official White House Christmas tree, which is decorated with glass ornaments depicting the seal of each State and territory. The Red Room hosts delightful holiday treats, and has been decorated with peppermints, candy, and cookies. The State Dining Room holds a traditional gingerbread house, which depicts the South facade of the White House and features Mrs. Trump’s signature Christmas wreaths.

I mentioned the gingerbread house last week. It is something to behold.

The White House will be receiving many visitors in the run up to Christmas:

the White House will host more than 100 open houses and many receptions. More than 25,000 visitors will walk the halls taking part in public tours.

Unlike presidential palaces, it is considered the People’s House, and the Trumps have opened the doors to tens of thousands of Americans, many for special recognition, in addition to those attending tours.

After many years in storage, the Nativity scene has reappeared:

You can see it from a distance in this video, at the end of a corridor full of brilliantly decorated Christmas trees:

This video shows the Nativity scene close up at the beginning of the following video (detail photo here). How beautiful:

In addition to views of the other rooms — including the Blue Room with the main Christmas tree (also see) — that video also has an excellent extended close-up of the gingerbread house, complete with portico and columns. How did they make that? Wow!

Mrs Trump also has Christmas booklets printed which explain a bit about the history of the White House rooms. The boy in the illustration is the First Son, aged 11:

Along with millions of Americans, I am so grateful for such a wonderful First Family.

No more Mao ornaments, as favoured by the Obamas. Thank goodness for that.

Compare and contrast the 2016 White House decorations with this year’s. (No Mao ornaments, but the difference is startling.)

Even worse were the Clintons’ White House displays. Please read the story at that link (content too indecent to summarise here).

In closing, here is another video.

I am also grateful that the Gateway Pundit‘s Jim Hoft gave special emphasis to the Nativity scene:

President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump are bringing Christ back to Christmas.

Melania released video of the beautiful White House decorations.

And this year a Nativity scene was included.

Yes! Christmas makes a comeback!

And the White House has never looked as beautiful as it does now.


UPDATE: CNN announced they will be boycotting the Trumps’ White House Christmas party for the media. Press Secretary Sarah Sanders is delighted, and Trump says we should turn off CNN.

First Lady Melania Trump and President Donald Trump hosted the 139th Easter Egg Roll at the White House on Monday, April 17, 2017.

The Easter Egg Roll falls under the first lady’s remit. Mrs Trump carefully researched the history of the event and decided to return to tradition.

CNN had a good, if biased, article on how this developed. Excerpts follow, emphases mine:

“She wanted to get back to the tradition, so we’re bringing back some traditional elements, like military bands, and focusing on the family itself,” Stephanie Grisham, Melania Trump’s communications director, told CNN.

Those traditional elements include the egg roll, an egg dying station, a cookie decorating station, an art wall, a thank-you card station where children can write notes to troops and veterans, and a reading nook …

Tickets were allocated to schools, children’ hospitals and military and law enforcement families, as well as the families of White House staff, according to [Press Secretary Sean] Spicer.

Planning an egg roll is a tricky balancing act, a collaboration between the East Wing, the White House Visitors’ Office, and volunteers …

Wells Wood Turning crafted 18,000 custom commemorative wooden eggs that will be given to each child in attendance. They arrived at the White House last week in five colors, including, naturally, a shiny gold.

Here are the eggs. Note the similarity in the first couple’s signatures:

CNN also gave us the history behind this popular — and very visible — White House event:

The egg rolling tradition began in the 1870s on Capitol grounds. After a particularly rotten 1876 roll, President Ulysses S. Grant signed legislation to protect Capitol grounds, which prohibited egg rolling, per the National Archives.

But in 1878, President Rutherford B. Hayes allowed children to roll their eggs on the White House South Lawn, and 139 years later, the tradition continues.

It’s always been quite a production for the first lady’s office.

Florence Harding wore a feathered hat in 1922. Grace Coolidge brought her pet raccoon, Rebecca, in 1927. Eleanor Roosevelt oversaw the egg roll during her husband’s four terms in office, including 1937, when more than 50,000 children attended.

The tradition of the costumed Easter Bunny began with a Pat Nixon staff member in 1969, per the White House Historical Association.

Spicer has a history with the Egg Roll himself: as a staffer in the George W. Bush administration, he was the man inside the Easter bunny suit.

With a new administration this year and not many staff in place, the planning time was short. Wells Wood Turning of Buckfield, Maine contacted the White House on February 20 to say that they needed to know how many eggs to make because time was running out.

Mrs Trump also had a skeleton staff at that point, so all hands were on deck. The White House engaged the services of event planning company Harbinger, which has organised events for a wide array of clients. The Obamas used C3 Presents.

That said, hundreds of volunteers are needed every year for the Egg Roll. After all, 21,000 people were expected this year. Easter baskets must be filled with a variety of sweet treats and other fun items. Four hundred volunteers, most of whom live locally, showed up on Holy Saturday to organise the gifts and work on other aspects of the event:

Part of the prep happened this Saturday, when 100 or so volunteers worked elbow-to-elbow in a fenced-in, tented portion of the Ellipse, behind the South Lawn of the White House. Creating a lengthy assembly line, they spent hours stuffing candy, coloring books and commemorative eggs into goodie bags for families attending the roll.

According to a source who participated in the preparation the weekend, the volunteers — many holdovers from years’ past and former administrations — arrived at 10 a.m. ET, working alongside Visitors Office and Social Office staffers. Truckloads of donated products were unpacked, grouped and placed into their designated spots, said one volunteer team leader. The items included arts and crafts supplies, as well as non-perishable foods. And yes, the source confirmed, there were also Peeps.

Peeps are a marshmallow Easter candy, most of which are coated with brightly coloured sugar.

Everything is carefully planned and diligently executed:

By the end of the afternoon, thousands of bags were completed, with the goal each child will receive a souvenir goodie bag and commemorative egg, added the source.

“Everyone at the White House is very excited about (Monday’s) Easter Egg Roll. Preparations are continuing through the weekend to ensure that every child who attends has a positive experience they’ll remember for years to come,” said Grisham.

Whereas Mrs Obama favoured popular music at the Easter Egg Roll, Mrs Trump scaled such music back, preferring to bring back the military bands from older Easter Monday events.

CNN says that special thanks go to Rickie Niceta Lloyd, Mrs Trump’s social secretary and the White House Visitors Office which organised four orientation sessions for the volunteers beforehand.

The next few tweets give us a glimpse of what went on over Easter weekend:

This was the graphic for the event. The bunnies have wooden spoons in their paws, because egg rolling contestants need them to push the eggs to the finishing line (see below):

It had rained and the ground was damp. Nevertheless, there was a rainbow, which impressed ‘Teddy Roosevelt’:

By the time the Trumps appeared on the balcony, the lawn had a crowd awaiting the official opening of the event:

President Trump introduced the event, followed by the the first lady:

Watch Mrs Trump nudge her husband to put his hand over his heart for the National Anthem, performed by the United States Marine Corps band. I saw another clip of this and Barron was first, closely followed by his mother:

Journalists covered the event for television. CNN’s Jim Acosta shared a laugh with a Mutant Ninja Turtle:

However, Today‘s Al Roker, who is the NBC morning show’s weatherman and co-host, appeared less amused. I think he is still angry Hillary lost:

One boy had Acosta’s number. As Acosta gave a live report, the lad on the left kept mouthing ‘Fake News!’ The video below should go straight to the 17-second mark (H/T: The Conservative Treehouse):

If that gets taken down, Newsbusters has a copy.

The following video from Fox News 10 in Phoenix shows how crowded the White House lawn was. President Trump turns up at the 27:52 mark to have pictures taken with guests. He also signed hats and programmes:

In the following video, jump to the 17:25 mark to watch the first Egg Roll of 2017. It only lasts 20 seconds:

Here’s a view from the finishing line:

The First Family was present at the starting line for the first Egg Roll. Trump’s daughter Tiffany (Marla Maples’s daughter) is in the pink dress and son Eric (Ivana Trump) is between Mrs Trump and Barron:

The Trumps went on to engage with their young guests:

Happy days bring happy experiences. The photo below appears thanks to The Truth Division and The_Donald:


The two clearly enjoyed each other’s company (click on top left photo below). (Donald Trump Jr, his wife and daughter are in the same photo. George Washington and Abraham Lincoln characters are in the baseball shirts, top right. Al Roker continues to be unamused, bottom left.)

Eric Trump and his wife Lara Lee brought along their dogs.

The American Egg Board supplied hen’s fruit (top left) and a fun display, An Egg’s Journey (top right):

Bro4 provided popular music. Martin Family Circus also entertained the guests.

Mrs Trump managed to persuade her husband’s press secretary and much of the cabinet to follow her lead in reading to the children in the Reading Nook. She chose Party Animals by Kathie Lee Gifford, wherein different animals find out how much they have in common. Mrs Trump said it was a particular favourite:

Press Secretary Sean Spicer read How to Catch the Easter Bunny with young Joshua, the only one in the audience who knew the story:

Attorney General Jeff Sessions read It’s Not Easy Being a Bunny, accompanied by his wife and four of their grandchildren:

Housing and Urban Development Secretary, Dr Ben Carson, accompanied by his wife and granddaughter, read The Grouchy Ladybug:

General Kellogg read Giraffes Can’t Dance. He did a great job, too:

Education Secretary Betsy De Vos and Counsellor to the President Kellyanne Conway also read to the youngsters. Conway chose God Gave Us Easter. Mrs De Vos, with one of her grandchildren, gathered the children up closely around her.

Military bands, the boy band and the circus act performed on the Bunny Hop Stage.

The United States Army Band chose traditional songs that the many of the children would not have heard before as well as better known numbers:

The Air Force Band and their Singing Sergeants brought an accomplished bluegrass air to proceedings:

First Son Barron, who turned 11 on Monday, March 20, is as tall as his mother:

I also hope this was a great success for First Lady Melania Trump. I am especially pleased that she blended the traditional with the contemporary so well, ensuring that Easter Monday was a delightful day out for all her guests.

Lent ends on the evening of Holy Saturday, generally timed around the first Easter Vigil service.

Many Christians enjoy attending Easter Vigil services to see the blessing and lighting of the Paschal Candle, which is lit at services for the next 40 days, until Ascension Day.

New holy water is blessed in Catholic and High Anglican churches. (Chrism Masses would have been held on Wednesday of Holy Week, at which time bishops bless the oil used in Baptism, Confirmation, Ordination and the Anointing of the Sick and Dying for the next year.)

Traditionally, catechumens — newcomers to the faith — are baptised at this service.

The following post has more information:

What happens on Holy Saturday?

During the day, families are busy purchasing and preparing festive dishes for Easter Day. A popular custom among Polish Catholics is to have their food blessed at church.

(Image credit:

The following post, with the help of the aforementioned website, explains the importance of these traditional ingredients:

Holy Saturday and food traditions

Every Christian culture has certain food traditions. In 2016, Mary Berry, the doyenne of English home cooks, presented a two-part programme for the BBC in which she explored different Easter treats from around the world. Find out more below:

Easter food explored — part 1 (Mary Berry, BBC — 2016)

Easter food explored — part 2 (Mary Berry, BBC — 2016)

A French cooking site has an interesting article on Easter food in Europe and Algeria. ‘Gâteaux de Pâques traditionnels’ has excellent close-up photographs by way of illustration. A summary of the article follows along with my own commentary.


In Alsace, the traditional Easter cake is made in the shape of a lamb. It was originally called Osterlammele — Easter lamb — suggesting its German origins.

Easter cakes in other European countries are also in lamb shapes, using special moulds. Polish lamb cakes are elaborately iced and decorated.

The one from Alsace is plainer, lightly dusted with icing sugar. Traditionally, it was wrapped in fine paper in the colours of Alsace or the Vatican.

Regardless of decoration, lamb cakes are rich in eggs, which were traditionally forbidden during Lent.

Wherever it is used, the lamb shape reminds us of the goodness of Christ and that we should follow His example.

All Recipes provides the instructions. The video below might not be the most expert, but I did enjoy watching the two young lads make a lamb cake:


Pasteria Napoletana is a popular Easter tart.

Its origins go back to pagan times, when a special bread made from spelt was offered to Ceres, the goddess of agriculture and fertility, in springtime.

Wikipedia says that it is possible that early bread evolved into a ritual bread made of honey and milk which catechumens received after their baptism on Easter Eve during the reign of Constantine.

In the 18th century, one of the nuns at the convent of San Gregorio Armeno in Naples, which still exists today, was responsible for the version eaten today. She wanted to create a tart that symbolised the Resurrection, including orange blossom water from the convent’s garden.

The symbolism is as follows: wheat for rebirth, flour for force and strength, eggs for infinity, white ricotta for purity and orange blossom water — along with dried fruit, spices and sugar — for richness.

Wikipedia says that the nuns were ‘geniuses’ in preparing these tarts, which had to be made on Maundy Thursday in order to set properly for Easter. They were then given to wealthy benefactors for the Easter table.

Although variations exist — sometimes with pastry cream added — each must have wheat and ricotta to be considered authentic.

Laura in the Kitchen has a recipe and a video:


At Easter, the Portuguese eat folar, bread which can be sweet or savoury.

Sometimes folar is wrapped around whole eggs (before baking) to symbolise new life.

Other variations include chorizo or other charcuterie.

Traditionally, this bread is given to priests, godparents or godchildren as a symbol of happiness and prosperity.

The lady in the video below makes a savoury folar in the most traditional way — in a bread trough. The film is in Portuguese, but you can check it for consistency and shaping while you follow a recipe, in this case from Pocket Cultures:


Austrians celebrate Easter by including on their tables a rich brioche called Osterpinze or Pinza. (Oster means ‘Easter’.)

This brioche originated in southern Austria. It is shaped into three petals — no doubt to symbolise the Holy Trinity — and sometimes has a coloured Easter egg — the Resurrection and new life — in the centre. Orange blossom water is used in the dough. Some variations also include dried fruits for extra richness.

The Austrians adapted this recipe from pannetone. Italy borders the southern part of the country.

The Bread She Bakes has a recipe in English. Although the video below is in German, watch this gentleman’s techniques:


Although Algeria is primarily Muslim today, it is important to remember that North Africa was the cradle of the early Church. One could certainly put forward a case for Christianity being an African faith, because it spread to Europe later.

Christians in Algeria ate Mouna Oranaise at Easter. La Mouna — a mountain — is situated outside of Oran, Algeria’s second largest city. Christians from Oran went to this mountain to celebrate Easter and to break bread.

Although the French article does not say, it seems likely that the bread developed into a brioche when the French arrived and took its present-day form.

All good brioches take time, and the Mouna takes six hours to rise: four initially, after which the dough is divided into two and left to rise for another two hours.

The Mouna has a rich egg glaze and is topped with pearl sugar.

Today, people of all faiths eat Mouna. A Muslim included the recipe on her Pinterest page. A YouTube video appears on the Sephardic (Jewish) food channel.

Christian pied-noirs brought the Mouna recipe to France as an Easter speciality. Make a brioche dough and include orange flower water or lemon zest. Knead the dough well — or use a food processor with a dough hook — to ensure the dough is nice and light:

I am sure that some of these Easter treats cross borders. I am particularly interested in hearing from others with regard to breads and pastries. Feel free to comment below!

In the meantime, I hope that everyone’s Easter preparations go well!

In parts of England, mainly to the east and the north, the first Monday after Twelfth Night is known as Plough Monday.

This is an ancient day which probably came to England from the Nordic countries’ invasions. Later, it was associated with the Church and by the 18th century purely with secular folk traditions. It is so called because it was when field workers returned to their labour after the Christmas holiday to till the soil. Back then, they celebrated twelve days of Christmas. Because of the cold weather, it was impractical to till the soil to ready it for sowing.

Origins and traditions

It is thought that the tradition of dancing for Plough Monday originated with the Northern Goths and Swedes when they were still pagans.

The man to document this was the last Catholic Archbishop of Sweden, Olaus Magnus (1490-1557), who fled to Italy and became a historian once the King of Sweden, Gustav Wasa, adopted Lutheranism as the country’s Christian denomination.

In Italy, Magnus became a cartographer and historical researcher. Among his works was History of the Northern Nations, printed in Rome in 1555. Pope Julius II granted a ten-year copyright which saw the 22-volume work translated into Italian, English, Dutch, French and German. (Ironically, it was not translated into Swedish until the 20th century.)

Elaborate dances to music

Hymns and Carols of Christmas gives a summary of what Magnus wrote about the Sword Dance and accompanying music which must have become a custom after the Nordic peoples invaded England in the Dark Ages. Later it would become part of Plough Monday festivities, as the Revd John Brand (1744-1806), an antiquarian and Anglican clergyman, documented (emphases mine):

He [Magnus] says that the Northern Goths and Swedes have a sport wherein they exercise their youth, consisting of a Dance with Swords in the following manner. First, with swords sheathed and erect in their hands, they dance in a triple round : then with their drawn swords held erect as before: afterwards, extending them from band to hand, they lay hold of each other’s hilts and points, and, while they are wheeling more moderately round and changing their order, throw themselves into the figure of a hexagon, which they call a rose: but, presently raising and drawing back their swords, they undo that figure, in order to form with them a four-square rose, that they may rebound over the head of each other. Lastly, they dance rapidly backwards, and, vehemently rattling the sides of their swords together, conclude their sport. Pipes, or songs (sometimes both), direct the measure, which, at first, is slow, but, increasing afterwards, becomes a very quick one towards the conclusion. (Citing Brand) Olaus Magnus adds of this dance that “It is scarcely to be understood, but by those that look on, how gamely and decent it is, when at one word, or one commanding, the whole armed multitude is directed to fall to fight: and clergymen may exercise themselves, and mingle themselves amongst others at this sport, because it is all guided by most wise reason.” (“See also Strutt’s Sports 8vo. p. 214.”)

Olaus Magnus calls this a kind of Gymnastic rite, in which the ignorant were successively instructed by those who were skilled in it: and thus it must have been preserved and handed down to us- “I have been” says Mr. Brand “a frequent spectator of this dance, which is now, or was very lately, performed with few or no alterations in Northumberland and the adjoining counties: one difference however is observable in our Northern sword dancers, that, when the Swords are formed into a figure, they lay them down upon the ground and dance round them.”

Disguises and begging for money

By the Middle Ages, Plough Monday was the time when boys with ploughs were to return to working in the fields. However, because the socioeconomic system of that era was so oppressive, the ploughboys disguised themselves and went to the houses of wealthy landowners instead to extort money. The ploughboys received no pay when they were not working, and the gulf between rich and poor was so great that it was one way they could redress the balance.

These itinerant workers — also known as Plough Jacks, Plough Bullocks or Plough Stots — blackened their faces so that the landowners would not recognise them. This tradition continued for centuries afterwards. says:

In the Cambridgeshire Fens children would collect money, often before school, this was known as Ploughwitching.

The Church

By the 1400s, Plough Monday was dedicated to raising funds for local parishes — boundaries of which were determined by church location. The church collected money to help the parish, comprised of a village or two and surrounding land. Groups of skilled ploughmen formed plough guilds which had a plough light in the local church, possibly as a way of asking for God’s blessings on the fields, in the same way we light a candle or votive light for a special intention today. A portion of the funds collected on Plough Monday helped to keep these lit throughout the year. Some priests also blessed ploughs on this day.

By 1538, when the Reformation took hold in England, plough lights were forbidden and plough guilds were disbanded. Anyone who conducted a drive for money on Plough Monday was fined.

Depending on the political and monarchical climate, Plough Monday waxed or waned until the early to mid-1600s.

17th century and after

Once Plough Monday revived in full, its ecclesiastical character disappeared.

By then, landowners ensured all their workers were well fed and watered throughout the twelve days of Christmas.

More farmworkers participated and used the day for personal gain by collecting money, joining in revelry and ending with a feast. Wikipedia describes a typical festival:

The customs observed on Plough Monday varied by region, but a common feature to a lesser or greater extent was for a plough to be hauled from house to house in a procession, collecting money. They were often accompanied by musicians, an old woman or a boy dressed as an old woman, called the “Bessy”, and a man in the role of the “fool“. ‘Plough Pudding’ is a boiled suet pudding, containing meat and onions. It is from Norfolk and is eaten on Plough Monday.[2]

Householders who refused to give money often saw their doorsteps or gardens pulled up by the farmworkers with the plough.

The procession with the plough went like this, according to an old account:

Long ropes are attached to it, and thirty or forty men, stripped to their clean white shirts, but protected from the weather by waistecoats beneath, drag it along. Their arms and shoulders are decorated with gay-coloured ribbons, tied in large knots and bows, and their hats are smartened in the same way. They are usually accompanied by an old woman, or a boy dressed up to represent one; she is gaily bedizened, and called the Bessy. Sometimes the sport is assisted by a humorous countryman to represent a fool. He is covered with ribbons, and attired in skins, with a depending tail, and carries a box to collect money from the spectators. They are attended by music, and Morris-dancers when they can be got; but there is always a sportive dance with a few lasses in all their finery, and a superabundance of ribbons. When this merriment is well managed, it is very pleasing.

Although the day was one of revelry, farmworkers as well as farmhouse cooks and servants got up as early as they could to show willingness to work during the season ahead. According to the aforementioned account, a kitchen maid was given a cockerel for Shrovetide before Lent. However, Plough Monday determined whether she received it:

Then Plough Monday reminded them of their business, and on the morning of that day, the men and maids strove who should show their readiness to commence the labours of the years, by rising the earliest. If the plough-man could get his whip, his plough-staff, hatched, or any field implement, by the fireside, before the maid could get her kettle on, she lost her Shrove-tide cock to the men. Thus did our forefathers strive to allure youth to their duty, and provided them innocent mirth as well as labour. On Plough Monday night the farmer gave them a good supper and strong ale. In some places, where the ploughman went to work on Plough Monday, if, on his return at night, he came with his whip to the kitchen-hatch, and cried “Cock on the dunghill,” he gained a cock for Shrove Tuesday.

The Revd Francis Blomefield was, like the aforementioned John Brand, an Anglican clergyman and antiquarian. He lived between 1705 and 1752. He documented the histories of Cambridgeshire and Norfolk.

In his History of Norfolk, he described the Plough Monday processions in that county. Although they were secular in nature then, men still collected for the ancient plough light, requesting ‘money for light’. However, instead of collecting for the church — as had been done in the 15th century — they were collecting money to be spent at the local alehouse.

Blomefield also wrote of the mummer play — folk play with local amateur actors — typically performed on that day, ‘The arraigning and indicting of Sir John Barleycorn’. It was a humorous sketch featuring characters from all walks of life: some admired, some despised. In the end, Sir John Barleycorn was always acquitted, but as Blomefield concluded:

From this facetious little narrative may be learned the folly of excess, and the injustice of charging a cheering beverage, with the evil consequences of a man taking a cup more of it than will do him good.

Regional variations

Plough Monday festivities died out in many places from the 19th through to the 20th centuries. However, some towns are reviving these old traditions.

Project Britain has a fascinating summary with recent pictures of Plough Monday where it has been revived.


An account from 1808, describing the custom in the North Riding of Yorkshire, says that any new tenant farmer received the labour of his neighbours as well as their ploughs on this day in order to prepare his land for sowing.

The account, written by Miss Hutton in her ‘Oakward Hall’, describes the great feast of homemade bread, dumplings, beef and Cheshire cheese at the end of the day.


In an area of the Huntingdonshire Fens (fens are lowlands):

a straw bear was led through the streets on Plough Monday. It is speculated that this may have grown out of a pagan ritual or just maybe an extension of disguising oneself using straw, inspired by dancing bears that used to tour the fenland villages.

Plough Monday traditions died out here in the 1950s but were revived in 2009:

Five hundred children from Ramsey Junior School and 14 other primary schools had been learning about Molly Dancing and other Plough Monday customs as part of the Heritage Lottery funded project “Cambridgeshire Roots”. The children from eight local schools came together to parade through the town of Ramsey and to dance on the Abbey Green. This was recorded by BBC Countryfile.

This custom has gone from strength to strength and the children now sing their own song as they process through the streets as taught to them by two ladies who went “ploughwitching” in the area 1950’s. It was thought that Plough Monday customs had largely died out in the Cambridgeshire Fens in the 1930’s until Gordon Phillips and Nicky Stockman met Anne Edwards and her husband during a performance by the children of Benwick Primary School. Anne told us about the antics of her peers who grew up in Ramsey Heights and visited local houses, dressed up with blackened faces to sing and beg for money. More local people who remembered the custom came forward during the intergenerational project “Ploughwitches and Bears”.

These videos from 2016 give you a good idea of Plough Monday past and present with Molly (Morris) Dancers, a play, sooty faces and a straw bear:

Another Fenland town, Whittlesey, holds a Straw Bear Festival:

a direct descendant of the Plough Monday customs, and there are revivals with a variety of names, often performed by local morris dancers. Look out for Plough Jags, Stots, Witchers and Bullockers … and Old Glory (see Cutty Wren) also perform on Plough Monday.

In other areas, sometimes the Straw Bear was paraded through the streets in lieu of a decorated plough in the 19th century.

Isles of Scilly

The Isles of Scilly are far away from the usual Plough Monday areas. They are in the Irish Sea, far off the coast of Cornwall. However, even there:

locals would cross-dress and then visit their neighbours to joke about local occurrences. There would be guise dancing (folk-etymologically rendered as “goose dancing” by either the authors or those whom they observed) and considerable drinking and revelry.[7]


I look forward to comments from anyone who has seen or participated in a Plough Monday event.


Plough Monday (Hymns and Carols of Christmas)

Olaus Magnus – History of the Nordic Peoples (Avrosys)

Plough Monday in England (

Plough Monday (Calendar Customs)

Plough Monday (Wikipedia)

Photos of Plough Monday in England (Project England)

j0289346In a recent Forbidden Bible Verses post on Matthew 13:50-53, I cited one of John MacArthur’s sermons, ‘The Power of Unbelief, Part 1’.

In that sermon, MacArthur describes Jesus’s return to the synagogue in Nazareth to teach the congregation. They were no more receptive than they were the first time, but at least they did not try to throw Him off a cliff again.

MacArthur described the ritual involved. The Church shares a few parallels.

Call to worship

Every Friday, there was the call to stop work for the Sabbath. The ancient Jews sounded:

two trumpet blasts. Those blasts would have come from the trumpet in the hands of the minister of the synagogue, who climbed up onto the roof of his house and just as the sun was beginning to set on Shabbat, Friday evening, he would blow two blasts to warn of the beginning of the Sabbath. A little time would intervene, and he would blow a second time, this time one blast. At that blast, all work halted. Then there would be a little space of time, and he would blow another single blast, and instantly put his trumpet down, lest he should defame and dishonor the Sabbath now that the third blast indicated it had begun. He would not defile the Sabbath.

Jesus would have heard the trumpet blasts and with the people, and gone to a place to partake in the Sabbath activity.

For Sabbath worship the following day, a synagogue leader used a shofar (translated as ‘trumpet’ in the Bible) to alert the congregation it was time to gather together. This would have been a long blast with one or two notes.

Churches have bells. In the Middle Ages, these were rung not only before Mass but at the time of the Elevation of the Host during the prayer of consecration, when everyone had to be at church. Some Christians used to wait for the second sound of the bells coming from the sanctuary, enter to hear the prayer, then leave afterwards. Many felt that it was sufficient to be present only at that point, as W D Maxwell explained in his 1937 book A History of Christian Worship: An Outline of Its Development and Form (p. 65).

Today’s bells, where used, generally are rung 15 minutes before the start of the service or Mass. They are still rung at the time of the consecration at Catholic Mass and some High Anglican services.

Assigned places

MacArthur says that everyone had an assigned seat in the synagogue:

They sat in a very prescribed manner in a very prescribed place; it was very routine, with familiar faces, activities, and events.

Until the mid-19th century, it was common in some Catholic, Anglican and Presbyterian congregations to rent or purchase a pew for one’s family. Those who could not afford to do so were relegated to lesser pews — on the side, in back or upstairs. Because of pew allocations some churches only allowed in members of their congregation, effectively prohibiting outsiders from attending. As congregants’ disputes rose over pew designations and clergy realised that they were restricting other Christians’ ability to worship, the practice was abolished.

Standing for the readings

MacArthur tells us that the Jews of Jesus’s time stood to hear the readings:

The standing posture was indicative of the authority of the Word of God.

Christians also stand for the Scripture readings.

Sitting for teaching

When a rabbi or guest teacher, such as Jesus, gave an address, the congregation sat down to hear it:

lest the people think that man’s teaching had the same authority as God’s Word. They stood to read, and sat to teach.

Similarly, Christians sit to hear a sermon.

Our Christian services follow time-honoured and ancient traditions. galette des rois — king cake — is eaten during the fortnight following Epiphany services.

This means there is still another week to enjoy this beautiful fusion of puff pastry and frangipane.

(Photo credit: Lookmag)

French pastry shops will sell millions of these delights before the middle of January.

Many people will also make these at home. I have done so in the past, and nothing could be easier.

Galette des Rois — King Cake

(prep time: 20 minutes, baking time: 35 minutes, serves 6 to 8)


1 roll of puff pastry

100 – 120 g (3 1/2 – 4 oz) ground almonds

100 – 120 g (3 1/2 – 4 oz) sugar

100 – 120 g (3 1/2 – 4 oz) butter, cut in cubes

1 tsp of dark rum or 1 capful of almond flavouring

1 egg (for frangipane)

1 egg yolk (for glaze)

One M&M or, traditionally, small plastic token and party crown

1 tbsp of icing (powdered) sugar (optional, see step 12)


1/ Preheat oven to 180° C (350° F).

2/ Combine almonds, sugar, rum/almond flavouring and butter in a bowl to stir or mix by hand. Alternatively, blitz these ingredients in a food processor until well mixed.

3/ Add the egg. If you are doing this by hand, make a well in the middle first, then mix thoroughly until you have a smooth paste. If using a food processor, blitz until the mixture comes together.

4/ Roll out the puff pastry. Cut out two circles: one for each layer.

5/ Lightly grease a baking tray and dust with flour. Alternatively, use a non-stick mat (Teflon or Silpat brands) on an ungreased baking tray.

6/ Place the bottom layer on your mat or tray. Spread the frangipane on it but keep the edge of this layer clear to allow the top layer of pastry to stick and eliminate weeping of the filling.

7/ Place the M&M or plastic token — e.g. a bean or tiny Magi figure — somewhere in the frangipane. I have recommended an M&M only because it has a hard coating. I do not know how this will work; it is possible that slice might have a bit of stain in it if the colour from the coating gets too hot.

8/ Using a pastry brush or clean fingertip, dampen the edge of the pastry with water.

9/ Carefully place the top circle of pastry on top of the open tart and press the edge closest to the middle closed. The very outside edge should be able to puff up in the oven.

10/ Beat an egg yolk with a few drops of water until liquid. Brush this on top of the galette.

11/ Make a design using a dull knife or small metal spatula. These Galette des Rois recipes from Le Journal des Femmes have a variety of designs.

12/ Place in the oven to bake for 35 minutes. By then, the galette should be golden brown. Alternatively, take the galette out of the oven after 25 minutes, dust with 1 tbsp of icing (powdered) sugar, then return it to the oven for another ten minutes. The crust will be even shinier with a slight crunch.

13/ Allow the galette to cool thoroughly. Transfer to a plate using a non-stick spatula if you have used a mat.

14/ Share it with your family and friends. The person who gets the slice with the plastic token is King for a Day and can do whatever he pleases (ancient Roman custom). An old French custom involves reserving one slice for a poor person should s/he stop by whilst you are eating the cake.

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