Sunday, January 3, 2010

Roc Day or St. Distaff's Day

Roc Day? St. Distaff's Day? ...ancient history and continuing tradition.

I first learned of Roc Day from fellow spinning and weaving guild members in South Dakota. Our Brookings FiberWorks Guild celebrated this ancient holiday each year on the first Saturday of January. Members would get together for a meeting, a potluck lunch, a chance to spin, knit or weave together, and demonstrate their craft to the public. It was always such fun to sit and spin on a cold, cold day with the sun streaming through the old library windows.

While we spent the day having fun, the day brought other important benefits: through the curiosity, enthusiasm and education of visiting adults and children, we were helping to keep tradition and ancient skills alive.

So what is this special day, anyway?
  • Roc can be another word for distaff.
  • St. Distaff's Day has nothing to do with any saint. Instead, the European tradition signifies the return of women to their daily spinning chores after the 12 days of Christmas. (Interestingly, the women went back to work several days before the men - no surprise there! Plough Monday, after the ploughs had been blessed, marked the return to work for the men.)
  • According to some 17th century poems, St. Distaff's Day was a day of pranks and fun, with the men setting fire to the flax and the women throwing water and soaking the men :) Our guild was never that rambunctious!
So just how important was spinning?

  • The spinning or twisting of fibres is an ancient craft that may date back to 15,000 B.C. The making of rope and nets from these twisted fibres was so important that mankind's survival may be connected to this discovery. Later, whorls were added to spindles to increase momentum. Some think that these round whorls were the precursors to the wheel. Wow!
  • The words "distaff" and spinster" were legal terms: while a father's side of the family was referred to as the "spear side", the mother's family was called the "distaff side." (A distaff was simply a staff onto which the wool or flax were wound before spinning.) A "spinster", as you know, was an unmarried woman.
  • And then there is clothing. Weaving (working over and under each thread as in darning) may have existed for thousands of years before a faster form of weaving (done by lifting many threads at once) was developed around 6000 BC. Most historians believe that modern knitting has about 1000 years of history while crocheting has been around for not much more than 200 years!

Working with fibre has been an important part of society and survival for millenia. Are the feelings of calm and relaxation that we get from working with fibre related to this long history? ...a primal urge perhaps? Definitely a tradition worth maintaining.

I hope that you will honour the tradition by playing with fibre on Roc Day or St. Distaff's Day - Thursday, January 7.

Maybe next year we can celebrate these ancient skills together.
Happy New Year,

History buffs might enjoy: Women's Work The First 20,000 Years by Elizabeth Wayland Barber.

1 comment:

  1. Here it is - Jan 7th - and I am working away (knitting). have a happy Distaff Day.