Today is Oak Apple Day,
used to be a a holiday celebrated in England on 29 May to commemorate the restoration of the monarchy in Britain and Ireland, in May 1660. Charles I was said to have hidden in an oak tree in 1651 in the Battle of Worcester and the oak apple became a symbol of his restoration to the monarchy. In 1660, Parliament declared 29th May a public holiday.
Oak apple gall is an abnormal growth of plant cells, formed as a response to a cynipid wasp laying eggs in the leaf or stem. These growths are called galls because they contain large amounts of tannin, which has a very bitter taste. The developing larvae live in the gall and eat from it. When the insect reaches the adult stage, it emerges from the gall through a small exit hole. Generally, galls do not seriously harm the oak tree. They may be cut off from branches, but insecticides will not work because the insect is encased and well protected inside the gall.
Though Oak Apple holiday was formally abolished in 1859, traditional celebrations continued involving the wearing of oak apples or sprigs of oak leaves. Despite it being Royalist (and I'm no Royalist, but it seems many of cornwall's traditions are based in royalty, it's not the Duchy of Cornwall for nothing I am coming to realise) it's been traditional for years. Seems, I've just discovered Pepy's described as "Forever kept as a day of thanksgiving for our redemption from tyranny and the King's return to his Government."
The 29th May was King Charles II's birthday. when you are meant to wear a sprig of oak. in the olden days if you didn't do this then young boys could pinch your bottom hence is was known as Pinch-Bum Day. The Chelsea pensioners celebrate the day by drinking beer and eating plum pudding. Charles II over ruled Cromwell's ban on merry-making and invented this day for people to party.
But the celebration appears, as is usually case to overlay an older Pagan festival. In 1603 the villagers Wishford, Wiltshire were granted the rights to collect wood from Grovely Forest for all time. They celebrate this by marching to the forest once a year. They return with large branches of oak, chanting "Grovely, Grovely and all Grovely" and carrying a banner bearing the words "Grovely, Grovely and all Grovely. Unity is Strength!”
In Cornwall and Wales, it's the time for special Oak clad Morris dancing as an ancient tradition first recorded in the reign of Elizabeth I, these ‘madde men’ with their ‘Devils dance’ were banned by the Puritans following the Civil War. Hmmm, banned and then replaced with basically the same ceremony.
In Devon and Cornwall many of the estates are open for half term activities many of which involve using oak leaves and apples.
The original ceremony is as far as I can determine the Celtic feast day of 'Buryan', also known as 'Bruniec', 'the Irish Lady', Irish princess, said to have accompanied St. Piran to Cornwall from Ireland. There is a village named in her honour near to Penzance, Cornwall, England.
Where traditionally miners would beg their bosses for food and beer. Which became seperated into the Celtic feast day of 'Collen', legend has it that Collen slew the evil giantess at Llangollen to save the lives of the people there, and as a sign of thanks he was made their Patron Saint.
Suggested that the giantess was a metaphor for the pagan practice and beliefs often associated with such events and the mother goddess or often replaced as the dragon. Usually usurped and overlaid with new traditions and religions - pretty much copying the older ones. A metaphor for re-labelling if you will.
Icidentally, Llangollen it is Believed to have travelled to Glastonbury. Also this is the period of celebration of fruit in the Jewish calendar too, as well as other old world religions.
Also, it's worth noting that the oak leaf is the symbol for Jack in the Green, although I'm unsure of his origins pre-the Roman invasion, he obviously has links to the Goddess Flora and her festival - with May Queens, Garlands and May poles. More common up country.
More on the month of May here:
Including historic accounts of May Poles which every village once had and the derivitive of festival the Celtic word feur. And of course Glastonbury's very own Dunstan who was an Anglo-Saxon saint; he was born a few miles from Glastonbury in Somerset, around 909AD. His father was a Wessex nobleman of royal blood.
Glastonbury was a place for Christian pilgrimage and a renowned centre of learning at that time. Dunstan was educated at the Abbey before joining his uncle Athelm, Archbishop of Canterbury, at the court of King Athelstan.
When Athelstan died his successor Edmund named Dunstan as Abbot of Glastonbury.
Dunstan acted as a royal advisor. In 955 however, Dunstan argued with the young King Eadwig, who confiscated Dunstan's property and exiled the monk.
Dunstan was called back to England by Edgar, king of Northumbria and Mercia. Under Edgar's influence Dunstan became Bishop of Worcester, and when Eadwig died in 960, Dunstan was named Archbishop of Canterbury. Dunstan arranged the details of Edgar's coronation as king, which remains the basis of royal coronations today.
When he died in 988 Dunstan became the most popular English saint of his day and his tomb became a place of pilgrimage.
29th May, a commemoration of the restoration of the monarchy in England
"The wise boy wore his oak leaves, armed himselves (sic) with a stinging nettle and carried a few dock leaves for first aid just in case"
– Bibliography of Nottinghamshire Folk Plays & Related Customs
"I remembered too late - I was on the bus before I noticed the other boys wearing them, and it was too late to get any oak leaves (or better, an oak apple). Other years I had raided the woods at the top of our road for some, but this year I'd somehow forgotten completely. It was indeed the wise boy who went rigged out, and I remember that one year I was ill-prepared, and suffered the slings and arrows wielded by my school chums that one year I forgot."
The tradition varied around the country, but the reason was the same. Bad old Oliver Cromwell and his wicked Roundheads had lost the Civil War, his incompetent son Richard had stepped down, and the Commonwealth of England had failed. Charles II returned to England, arriving in London on 29th May, 1660, his 30th birthday. He was eventually restored to the throne, being crowned on 23 April 1661.
Parliament proposed an annual public holiday to commemorate this event, and set a committee in motion, to prepare a bill
...for keeping of a perpetual Anniversary, for a Day of Thanksgiving to God, for the great Blessing and Mercy he hath been graciously pleased to vouchsafe to the People of these Kingdoms, after their manifold and grievous Sufferings, in the Restoration of his Majesty, with Safety, to his People and Kingdoms: And that the Nine-and-twentieth Day of May, in every Year, being the Birth Day of his Sacred Majesty, and the Day of his Majesty's Return to his Parliament, be yearly set apart for that Purpose.†
The holiday was indeed celebrated - for example, in the town of Bridgwater in Somerset, "Revels were said to have been held near Pig Cross on Oak Apple Day (29 May) until the 1830s". In 1859, the holiday (confusingly, known as Arbor Day to some) was abolished, but the spirit of it lived on in many parts of England, mostly connected with the oak tree.
A Spanking! A Spanking!
Or rather, the avoidance of one. In many parts of the country, the anniversary was marked by the wearing of oak leaves, or oak apples (a gall formed where a wasp lays its eggs). Failure to comply meant that one would face some form of punishment, varying from one place to another.
Those who refused to wear an oak-sprig were often set upon, and children would challenge others to show their sprig or have their bottoms pinched. Consequently, this day became known as Pinch-Bum-Day.‡
Other punishments included "scragging" (being beaten), having soil rubbed into the hair, and being whipped with nettles. The latter was the proscribed treatment in the village school of Blidworth, Nottinghamshire, as late as 1964. I know. That was the year I forgot.
The Oak Connection
It is said that Charles' life was saved after the Battle of Worcester in 1651, when he escaped from the Roundhead army by hiding in an oak tree in the grounds of Boscobel House in Staffordshire, hence the wearing of oak leaves to commemorate his return to the throne.
It is possible, however, that the day itself reflects another, older, pagan ceremony - the town of Castleton in Derbyshire a parade in honour of the "Garland King", who "rides through the streets of Castleton, Derbyshire, at the head of a procession, completely disguised in greenery", on this date, possibly a reference to worship of the Green Man.
Whilst Oak Apple Day is no longer a public holiday, it is not yet completely forgotten. At All Saints Church in Northampton, a garland of oak-apples is still laid at Charles II's statue each year.
The Chelsea Pensioners of the Royal Hospital, Chelsea, also still parade on this day for inspection by a member of the Royal Family (it being "Founder's Day", in honour of King Charles II, who founded the Hospital). Oak leaves are still very much in evidence, although I doubt whether detractors still get whipped with nettles.
Last weekend was Urban Lawns, Axminster - very wet and windy - the festival prevailed despite worsening conditions. A great weekend we'll be back as it was so inexpensive and would be grand in summer.
Thursday is P~agan Mayan ceremony at Stonehenge! Yay! and then Wychwood Festival on Friday! Feur season is here.