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Dates for assembly

January 10 Plough Monday

Historically, this was the day on which farmers and farm workers resumed work after the Christmas holiday.

Outline script for assembly leaders

For most shops, Christmas ended on Christmas Eve. By Boxing Day, decorations were replaced by "sale" signs. Those who have trees and other decorations in their homes usually leave them in place for the 12 days of Christmas but in country districts, from medieval times until the early years of the 20th-century, the holiday lasted until the weekend after Twelfth Night.

That Sunday was known in many places as Plough Sunday. On this day, a plough would be dragged into each parish church to be blessed - in the belief that the fields it ploughed that month would produce good crops.

Then, on Plough Monday, before the new working year began, farm workers and the older boys of the village would blacken up their faces and put on clean white shirts. They would then decorate the plough with flowers and ribbons and drag it round the village begging money, threatening to plough up the garden of anyone who refused them money. What they got was spent on beer.

In the East Midlands, the men of the village also performed mummers' plays.

These comic dramas often featured St George, who not only fought the dragon but other villains before rescuing the heroine. In many villages there was morris dancing. One man became the "Betsy" and would put on a woman's long dress and collect beer money, often in a large wooden ladle.

Plough Monday was also the day on which boys old enough to start work were initiated as members of the plough team. In East Anglia, this involved the boys being chased and, once they were caught, they had their faces pressed firmly against the rear end of the plough horse.

Follow-up

Work out the date of Twelfth Night. This is a debatable point, depending on whether you consider "the first day of Christmas" to be Christmas or Boxing Day. In Shakespearean times, Twelfth Night was observed on January 5.

Encourage groups to make three resolutions for their new working year - and then to select the one they will make a special effort to keep.

Create a comic mummers' play. There is a lengthy paper on the origins and history of Plough Monday and mummers' plays at: http:freespace.virgin.netpeter.millington1PloughMondayOrigins.htm

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