Royal Oak Day

Royal Oak Day
, Oak Apple Day
(29 May)
   One of the few customary days which have an identifiable historical starting-point:
   This was the first anniversary appointed by Act of Parliament to be observ'd as a day of general Thanksgiving for the miraculous Restauration of his Majestie: our Vicar preaching on 118 Psalm 24. Requiring us to be Thankfull & rejoice, as indeede we had Cause. (John Evelyn's Diary, 29 May 1661)
   When Charles II arrived in London on his birthday in 1660, it signified not only the restoration of the monarchy itself, but also, it was hoped, the return of the pre-Puritan tolerance of popular sports, customs, and celebrations. The story of how Charles had hidden in an oak tree to avoid capture after the Battle of Worcester had become part of the nation's popular memory, and the oak leaf quickly became the symbol of the day. Until well into the 20th century, anyone caught not wearing an oak leaf or oak apple on 29 May could be pinched, kicked, or otherwise abused. Whipping with nettles was a favourite punishment, hence the name 'Nettle Day' in some areas. In its heyday, Oak Apple Day appears to have absorbed some of the customs we would normally associate with May Day. Certainly, some places kept their maypole celebrations up for the whole month. William Hone's Every-Day Book (1827: 356-61) details some of the customs extant in the 1820s. Some relatively low-key loyal customs still take place: at Worcester the Guildhall gates are festooned with oak branches (Shuel, 1985: 60) while at Northampton a previous procession of Mayor, Corporation, and children, carrying oak apples, has now been replaced by the simple placing of an oak-leaf wreath around the neck of a statue of Charles in All Saints' Church. Other localized names include 'Shick Shack Day' and 'Yak Bob Day'.
   ■ Opie and Opie, 1959: 263-6; Wright and Lones, 1936: i. 254-70.

A Dictionary of English folklore. . 2014.

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