If there are any oak trees conveniently located near you, be sure to pick a sprig and take it home, or else you’re liable to a thrashing with stinging nettles (which I may personally deliver). I’ll write a longer post about the history and traditions of Oak Apple Day a little later.
Further to my earlier post in celebration of Oak Apple Day, here’s a quick sketch of what it is, and how it came to be:
In 1660, the English Parliament passed legislation establishing a new public holiday, as described in this extract from Samuel Pepys’s diary: “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 oak tree came to be associated with the holiday because Prince Charles, who became the King to whom Pepys is referring, had hidden from Parliamentarian forces in the branches of an oak tree in Boscobel Park following the Battle of Worcester in 1651. This ‘Royal Oak’ became an emblem of the Restoration of the monarchy that came with the downfall of the short-lived English Republic and the accession of Charles II in 1660.
Although the public holiday was officially abolished in 1859, it is still celebrated locally in some communities, often accompanied by the sorts of pre-Christian festivities (akin to those of May Morning) that Oliver Cromwell’s government had been keen to suppress. For example, the villagers of Castleton in Derbyshire dress up a 'Garland King’ in impressive floral disguise, before he rides through the village accompanied by a female consort (as shown here). Elsewhere, it is customary to wear oak leaves or plant an oak bough on church towers.