Oak Apple Day
|Oak Apple Day|
An oak apple in Worcestershire, England
|Also called||Royal Oak Day
Shick Shack Day
Oak and Nettle Day
|Observances||Wearing of sprigs of oak leaves and/or oak apples; those who failed to do so might be beaten with nettles|
|Next time||29 May 2014|
Oak Apple Day or Royal Oak Day was a formal public holiday celebrated in England on 29 May to commemorate the restoration of the English monarchy, in May 1660. In some parts of the country the day is still celebrated and has also been known as Shick Shack Day, Oak and Nettle Day or Arbor Tree Day.
In 1660, Parliament declared 29 May a public holiday:
- "Parliament had ordered the 29 of May, the King's birthday, to be for ever kept as a day of thanksgiving for our redemption from tyranny and the King's return to his Government, he entering London that day." 
The public holiday, Oak Apple Day, was formally abolished in 1859, but the date retains some significance in local or institutional customs. It is, for example, kept as Founder's Day in the Royal Hospital Chelsea (founded by Charles II in 1681).
Traditional celebrations to commemorate the event often entailed the wearing of oak apples (a type of plant gall, possibly known in some parts of the country as a shick-shack, but see the article on its etymology in the external links) or sprigs of oak leaves, in reference to the occasion after the Battle of Worcester in September 1651, when the future Charles II of England escaped the Roundhead army by hiding in an oak tree near Boscobel House. Anyone who failed to wear a sprig of oak risked being pelted with bird's eggs or thrashed with nettles.
In Upton Grey, after the church bells had been rung at 6 a.m. the bell-ringers placed a large branch of oak over the church porch, and another over the lych gate. Smaller branches were positioned in the gateway of every house to ensure good luck for the rest of the year.
These ceremonies, which have now largely died out, are perhaps continuations of pre-Christian nature worship. The Garland King who rides through the streets of Castleton, Derbyshire, at the head of a procession, completely disguised in a garland of flowers, which is later affixed to a pinnacle on the parish church tower, can have little connection with the Restoration, even though he dresses in Stuart costume. He is perhaps a kind of Jack in the Green and the custom may have transferred from May Day when such celebrations were permitted again after having been banned by the Puritans.
Events still take place at Upton-upon-Severn, Northampton, Aston on Clun in Shropshire, Marsh Gibbon in Buckinghamshire, Great Wishford in Wiltshire when villagers gather wood in Grovely Wood, and Membury in Devon. The day is generally marked by re-enactment activities at Moseley Old Hall, one of the houses where Charles II hid in 1651.
Oak Apple Day is also celebrated in the Cornish village of St Neot annually. The Vicar leads a procession through the village, he is followed by the Tower Captain holding the Oak bough. A large number of the villagers follow walking to the Church. A story of the history of the event is told and then the Vicar blesses the branch. The Tower Captain throws the old branch down from the top of the Tower and a new one is hauled to the top. Everyone is then invited to the Vicarage gardens for refreshments and a barbecue. Up to 12 noon villagers wear a sprig of "red" (new) oak and in the afternoon wear a sprig of "Boys Love" Artemisia abrotanum, tradition dictates that the punishment for not doing this results in being stung by nettles. An episode of "Midsomer Murders" features an Oak Apple Day festival in a typical Midsomer village. Apart from the usual village fete aspects, the celebrations include choosing an Oak Apple Queen, and ritual collection of fresh oak branches, the decorating of village houses with fresh oak branches, singing a traditional song at the front of each decorated house, and an Oak Apple Parade of floats and costumed performers. (The murders that occur in this episode are the consequences of an earlier Oak Apple Day that had a tragic ending. But life is like that in TV's "Midsomer" -- and death.) Amusingly, two fascinating character actors (a haughty old village-snooping woman and her weird black-dressed pony-tailed son) reappear in this episode, identical two the "Rainbird" characters who had been at the centre of the very first episode of "Midsomer Murders", with the twist that the reappearing old woman is supposed to be the sister of the first old woman, and the reappearing weird son is the cousin of the first weird son. Chief Inspector Barnaby is initially baffled, once he gets past the sense of deja vu, because he had solved the brutal murder of busy-body old Mrs Rainbird and her Funeral Director son.
- "29th May was named Royal Oak Day 350 years ago by Act of Parliament. Royal Oak Day marks the Restoration of England’s Monarchy and celebrates our freedom from tyranny", royaloakday.org.uk
- Hole, Christina (1978). A Dictionary of British Folk Customs, pp114–115, Paladin Granada, ISBN 0-586-08293-X
- Samuel Pepys, Diary June 1, 1660
- Hampshire Treasures Volume 2 (Basingstoke and Deane) Page 321 - Upton Grey
- House of Commons Journal Volume 8, 30 May 1660, Anniversary of the Restoration
- Pepys Diary 1 June 1660.
- English culture: Oak Apple Day
- Customs at Great Wishford
- Picture of an Oak Apple
- Possible etymology of shick-shack
- A 1915 film of Colonel Lyttleton inspecting the Chelsea pensioners on Oak Apple Day is preserved at the British Film Institute: screenonline: Topical Budget 197-1: Oak Apple Day (1915) (Only accessible to registered users).