February 07, 2017

#05-002: Some Peculiar January Holidays in England

a team of draft horses and a tractor with a plow attached are in front of a large church as a crowd looks on
Plough Sunday

Note: England has begun to revive some old customs, such as one that rewards the contribution of workers, and another that recognizes the start of the agricultural season.

Get Ready: Do you give gifts to the "helpers"--mail deliverers and other public servants, for example--at Christmas or New Years? If so, what do you give?

Before this age of easy transportation and mass communication, each country--and even different regions in some larger countries--developed its own customs for observing the various holidays.

Two celebrations anciently associated with England and Scotland have to do with returning to the daily work routine after the time of Christmas and New Year feasting.

Handsel Monday may be particularly interesting to readers because of its association with one of the most popular Chinese customs, the "Red Envelope" or hongbao. Surprisingly, this same custom was carried on in northern England and Scotland, though tradesmen, household servants, deliverymen, and others who had provided services were given these gifts, in addition to children and young people.

The word "handsel" comes from a word meaning "delivered into the hand," and the delivered items were generally monetary tips betokening good luck. Handsel Monday was usually the first Monday of the year (though in rural Scotland it was observed on the first Monday after January 12). The custom has generally disappeared, but some of its aspects have been grafted onto the better-known "Boxing Day" (the day after Christmas).


Another unusual custom was the twinned holidays of Plough Sunday and Plough Monday. This was typically the first Sunday after the Feast of the Epiphany (January 6; see Lesson #05-003)--so the Sunday falling between January 7 and 13--and its subsequent Monday.

Considered the beginning of the agricultural year, it was also a way to honor farmers and their efforts. Usually, a ploughshare was brought to church and given a special blessing. Seeds might also be blessed at that time. The ploughshare might be carried through the village or town, with participants collecting money for the church; special dances might also be performed to celebrate the day.

(It reminds us of the Bible verse Isaiah 2:4, which says that "in the last days" the people "shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruninghooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.")

Then, on the next day (Plough Monday), the work would begin, and new seeds planted.

In modern times, Plough Sunday celebrations are being revived--but the farmers may bring their tractors to church for a blessing!


Read more:

Practice: Match the term to its definition below:

  1. betokening
  2. blessed
  3. grafted onto
  4. monetary
  5. ploughshare
  6. rural
  7. subsequent
  8. the routine
  9. tradesmen
  10. twinned

  1. indicating; representing
  2. attached to
  3. paired; coming together
  4. the cutting blade of an instrument used to turn the earth
  5. skilled workers, like carpenters and masons
  6. the usual daily activities
  7. cash
  8. following; after
  9. in the country; not urban
  10. have a special prayer said for something

Answers are in the first comment below.

Submitted to the Shenzhen Daily for February 7, 2017

1 comment:

  1. Answers to the Practice: 1. a; 2. j; 3. b; 4. g; 5. d; 6. i; 7. h; 8. f; 9. e; 10. c