The Origins of Plough Monday - Appendix B


Traditional Drama '79, One Day Conference, University of Sheffield, 20th Oct.1979

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Appendix B - Plough Trailing (from Als, Denmark)

Translated from S.Grundtvig (1861). This account was reprinted in slightly altered form by H.F.Feilberg (1889).

"Plough Trailing"

Up to the end of the last century [1] a party was held on New Years Eve, at which the young farm lads and girls gathered to dance. In order to get money for it, the farm hands "went with the plough". This was guided by a "Priest" and accompanied by a "Dean" [2], whilst the other lads hauled the plough. They were joined together by rope which fastened them to the traces. The party stopped at each well to do house. An accompanying "Musician" played up, and led by the "Dean", the whole company sang :

1. Unlock your door
Let the New Year in!
Welcome New Year, and welcome it here!
We are welcome in the gentleman's year and welcome here
2. With joy and with merriment,
with health altogether.
Welcome New Year etc.
3. With plums and with pears
which summer brings forth
Welcome New Year etc.
4. With long rye on the threshing floor
and fine foals in the stalls
Welcome New Year etc.
5. With fish in the nets
and pretty girls in the beds
Welcome New Year etc.
6. So that the cradle can rock
with many charming children
Welcome New Year etc.
7. Now the song has ended,
God turns all evil from us!
Welcome New Year etc.

The party's "Priest" then tells the following tale :-

"Give room in this house! Master and Mistress cannot throw us out, since we exercise the old custom and practice which the farm lads are allowed on New Years Eve. So, I will say what old Bernhardus said : Whoever gives a small share gives God a full share. We are all craftsmen : Tailors, shoemakers, cobblers, pearl piercers, I am myself a cobbler. I have an awl in my possession, and if you don't believe me you can have a look at it. We travelled 40 miles [3] before we got a thread to sew in your shoe. We travelled for many years in Russia, Germany, Roland [4], Poland, Rotland [4], Scotland, and after this 40 mile journey we came to a man :

He walked and sowed over pools and dykes
He didn't reap a straw anywhere in the whole kingdom.

He was a bad [5] man, he was a rude man, he was however so pious and good that he visited the little land of Fyn with us.

We came to Kjærtemind
There was good ale and fine women
We stayed there a long time.

They gave us bristly pork and Vrimpels [6], butter, speciesdalers [7], 50 mark pieces, 20 shilling pieces, 10 shilling pieces and 5 shilling pieces [8]. They gave us these things because we were such [good] farm lads. But then we came to another man.

He went and sowed from a jug onto a sheet.
He reaped 100 fold with his scythe.
He sowed a handful
and harvested a roomful.
He sowed a handful
and harvested a Land full.

He was a handsome man. He was such a man as I, and had such a beard as I. If you want to find him, look at me so that you know what to look for. Now I will sow my seed too : Jutland seed, German seed, Dutch seed, Lolland seed, and all the wives and crows which fly among the chimneys will perish before my seed perishes."

Thereon the musician played a dance, and the young men danced with the girls of the house, or amongst themselves. The master then gave the speaker some money, and afterwards the "Dean" and the whole band sang this verse to the musician's fiddle :

1. Now we all want to
give our thanks
with lusty songs and with pleasure.
May we all live well
and happily together!
2. May health, tranquillity and peace
- We wish to give our thanks -
be with everyone in this place.
May we all live well etc.
3. Now we will walk out of the door
- We wish to give our thanks -
and want to wish you a happy New Year.
May we all live well
and happily together!

The party's "Priest", who had now completed his task, finished thus :

"So, we shall go. New Years day is coming throughout the county, and we must make our way to Jes Minkus [9] in Flæskdamsmaj [9]. Gee up my fine horses!"

Notes to Appendix B

  1. i.e. the end of the eighteenth century.

  2. According to the dictionary, a "Dean" is either a Parish clerk or a village schoolmaster.

  3. One Danish mile equals about 4 English miles, therefore the distance is 160 English miles.

  4. These appear to be fictitious places introduced for the purpose of rhyme.

  5. 'Bad' is one possible translation of the word "slem". An alternative interpretation is 'serious'.

  6. Small butter barrels of c.16 pounds.

  7. Speciesdalers are old Danish silver coins.

  8. 2.5 Marks = 40 Shillings

  9. These names are given as arbitrary examples. They depend on the next place which is to be visited.

Appendix C >>>

© Copyright 1979-2004 Peter Millington ( Last Updated: 08-Apr-2016