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Plough Monday – January 9, 2023

This year’s Plough Monday will be observed on January 9. This fun day is observed on the first Monday after January 6, known by Christians as the Twelfth Night. Plough Monday is an old British harvest tradition that marks the start of the agricultural season. The day was a celebration for farm workers. They toured villages with a plow, singing and dancing their way through. What was the objective? Raising money. And if you weren’t a sport, chances were revelers would plow up your gardens. In case that happened, participants usually blackened their faces with soot to avoid being recognized. The unique festival all but died out in the 18th Century. Thankfully, places like East Anglia and East Midlands still keep the tradition alive.

History of Plough Monday

The origins of Plough Monday go back to East Anglia and the East Midlands, where the celebrations were popular. Traditionally, Plough Monday was when workers returned to the farm after an unpaid Christmas holiday since agricultural work was scarce in winter. They walked around asking for ‘donations’ from better-off neighbors — someone like the village Squire. Farmworkers would shout “Penny for the plowboys!” while dragging a plow around. In attempts to disguise themselves, workers blackened their faces with soot. Villagers unwilling to donate faced the possibility of having their gardens plowed.

Entire villages would join in the fun. The plowboys often came with a colorful entourage too. One of the most popular characters was The Fool – a person dressed like an animal carrying a pig’s bladder on the end of a stick. Sometimes, Molly dancers would also accompany the workers to entertain for money. All the dancers blackened their faces with soot — preventing future employers from recognizing them. In the past, communities performed a series of plays on Plough Monday — similar to Christmas Mummers Plays. The performances were popular in the East Midlands, Lincolnshire, and Nottinghamshire. Story elements usually depicted the death and resurrection of the primary characters.

Plow Day takes place on the first Monday after Epiphany (January 6) or the Twelfth Night. Today, the observance is primarily associated with Molly dancing and plays. The best place to catch the festivities is at Maldon in Essex every year. Places like Exeter and Durham cathedrals also conduct a Blessing the Plough service on the Sunday before Plough Monday.

Plough Monday timeline

1400s
The Blessing of the Plows

Farmers resume work on Plough Monday after the church blesses their plows.

1800s
The Festival Almost Dies Out

Plough Monday customs decline in most U.K. towns. 

1800s
The Whittlesey Straw Bear Festival

Straw Bears or men dressed in layers of straw are popular fixtures at Plough Monday.

1972
Old traditions, New Times

 
The town of Balsham revives Plough Monday as homage to its rural traditions.

Plough Monday FAQs

What do you do on Plough Monday?

Plough Monday is an old British harvest custom still observed in north and east England. Farmworkers traditionally pull a plow around the village to collect money for a community feast.

What is the name of the first Monday after Twelfth Night?

The first Monday after Twelfth Night is called Plough Monday. It’s a fun festival for farmworkers in Britain. 

Is January 6 the 12th day of Christmas?

January 6 is also known as Epiphany Eve — a Christian observance on the last night of the twelve days of Christmas. People also refer to it as the Twelfth Night.

Plough Monday Activities

  1. Attend Plough Monday festivities

    Visit smaller towns like Maldon, Durham, and Exeter for glimpses of traditional celebrations. It’s a great chance to visit some of the more offbeat places in Britain.

  2. Make a farmer happy

    Drop by a farmers’ market and shop for some fresh produce. While you’re there, maybe buy your local farmers some coffee and muffins too.

  3. Visit a farm

    Take the family for a fun day or weekend trip to a farm. You’ll come back with a renewed appreciation for food, how it’s grown, and the people who grow them.

5 Intriguing Facts About Plough Monday

  1. It had a Christian origin

    Plows would be blessed and candles lit in churches as an invocation of blessings for farmers.

  2. The farm workers wore disguises

    Not only did they apply soot on their faces, but the younger ones would also put on women’s clothing and stuff themselves with straws in order to look like women.

  3. Dancing was part of the festivities

    The plow workers would engage in Molly dancing — which is a form of English folk dance — while wearing outlandish costumes.

  4. It was disapproved

    In the 19th Century, Plough Monday was looked upon as a ‘degrading custom’ that was promoting “criminal activity.”

  5. It had two key caricatures

    There was the ‘Bessy’ who was a man dressed to look ridiculous in women’s clothing and the ‘fool’ who wore animal skins; their task was to solicit money.

Why We Love Plough Monday

  1. Keeping tradition alive

    We love seeing old traditions survive. Too many have died out, and it feels like we’re losing parts of ourselves with them. 

  2. Gratitude for farmworkers

    Fun antics aside, Plough Monday is a reminder to appreciate people who toil with the soil. Theirs is a difficult job — possibly one of the toughest there is.  

  3. It brings people together

    Plough Monday involves everyone — no matter your background. We love quirky festivals that bring communities together.

Plough Monday dates

YearDateDay
2022January 10Monday
2023January 9Monday
2024January 8Monday
2025January 13Monday
2026January 12Monday

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