The Everyday Lore Project

20 January 2020 – Washing on St Agnes' Eve

20 January 2020 – Washing on St Agnes' Eve

It’s been a little full on recently, so I thought I would have a relatively quiet folklore day and just do the washing. Because, of course, folklore has rules about laundry. The most well known rule around here is don’t do any washing (or cleaning) on New Year’s Day, otherwise you’ll clean away your luck (see also having a blistering hangover to which the noise of a spin cycle or the smell of toilet bleach would be unhelpful). 

There are lots of rhymes to guide the unsuspecting laundry person as to when to do the washing, none of which include Sunday (although I’m assuming that as with most weekly guiding rhymes, washing on Sunday would probably provoke the devil into doing something). I found three rhymes: the screen shots are from Encyclopædia of Superstitions, Folklore, and the Occult Sciences of the World:

And this one is from the Oxford Dictionary of English Folklore, collected in Yorkshire in 1877:

They that wash on Monday, have all the week to dry
They that wash on Tuesday, are not so much awry
They that wash on Wednesday, are not so much to blame
They that wash on Thursday, wash for shame
They that wash on Friday, wash in need
They that wash on Saturday, Oh! They’re sluts indeed

While I’m pleased that having done my washing today I will have luck, a pleasant adventure to look forward to, and a week to dry my smalls, I think next time, I might just reclaim my house sluttishness and go for a Saturday. After all, while not at the stage this time of needing to wear my swimming costume in place of an undercracker, to be fair I’m never that far off.

Today is also St Agnes’ Eve, one of the several nights during the year when love divination is said to work best. It’s supposedly for the single lady to perform, but I don’t see why folklore can’t be inclusive, therefore anyone who’s on the lookout for the their next love, or their one true love, or their for-the-time-being love (the books are never quite clear on which it is) should look up what they need to do tonight. But be warned, it might involve (amongst other things) dumb cakes, walking up the stairs backwards, throwing barley under an apple tree, or eating a raw red herring before bed.

Although I will say this – Keats had it right when he wrote ‘St. Agnes’ Eve — Ah, bitter chill it was!’ because I don’t know what the weather’s like where you are, but it’s chapel hat pegs round my way…


Cooper, Q. and Sullivan, P. (1994) Maypoles, Martyrs & Mayhem: 366 Days of British Myths, Customs & Eccentricities, London, Bloomsbury Publishing Plc

Daniels, C.L. & Stevans, C.M (eds) (2003) Encyclopædia of Superstitions, Folklore, and the Occult Sciences of the World, Hawaii, University Press of the Pacific

Day, B. (1998) A Chronicle of Folk Customs, London, Hamlyn

Jones, J. and Deer, B. (1987) Cattern Cakes and Lace, London, Dorling Kindersley Limited

Roud, S. (2006) The English Year: A Month-By-Month Guide To The Nation’s Customs and Festivals, From May Day to Mischief Night, London, Penguin Books

Published by Liza Frank

Author of My Celebrity Boyfriend. Obsessed with hula hooping, sons of preachermen and fresh dates, sometimes all at the same time. Curator of Folklore Agony and The Everyday Lore Project.

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