The first Monday after Twelfth Night is Plough Monday, a day when ploughmen traditionally blackened their faces and marked the end of the Christmas period for the agricultural communities.
- As agricultural work was scarce in the winter, farm labourers disguised themselves, by blacking their faces with soot, to get money by dragging a decorated plough around the larger houses in the villages. As they dragged the plough they would shout out “Penny for the ploughboys!”.
- Ploughs were often decorated with colourful rags/ribbons
- They were often accompanied by someone acting the Fool. This character would often be dressed in animal skins and a tail, and carried a pig’s bladder on the end of a stick.
- In medieval times it was common for ploughs to be blessed by the church on Plough Sunday. Farmers resumed their work on Plough Monday after the 12 days of Christmas.
Plough Monday plays were popular in parts of Lincolnshire, Nottinghamshire and the East Midlands. They were similar to that of Christmas Mummers Plays in that they were performed by young men and included some of the same story elements, such as the death and resurrection of one of the characters.
- Molly dancing is most commonly performed on or around Plough Monday.
- In the past, Molly dancers sometimes accompanied the farm labourers to dance and entertain for money. They blackened their faces with soot to disguise themselves so they could not be recognised by their future employers.
- Molly dancing traditionally only appeared during the depths of winter and is regarded by many people as the East Anglian form of Morris. The dances are still performed today.