May 29: Oak Apple Day

Outside of the United Kingdom Oak Apple Day may not be fully known. In 166o King Charles II returned to London after the monarchy was restored.

According to tradition, during the Battle of Worcester, King Charles hid in an oak tree to escape capture by Oliver Cromwell’s men.  The oak tree was on the grounds of Boscobel House, Staffordshire. Therefore, on May 29 the wearing of the oak apple or leaf symbolizes his narrow escape.

Like any festivity the day was marked with good food, dancing, merriment and a lot of drink.  The English know how to party.

Two other names for May 29 are Nettle Day and Pinch Bum Day. According to custom if someone on May 29 was found without the oak leaf a pinch on the buttocks was allowed or a harsher punishment was to be whipped by nettles.

Nettles (Urtica dioica) are a common flowering plant with trichomes.  If the trichomes come into contact with bare skin, they release a chemical compound which causes a stringing sensation.  I have never experienced the nettle touch, but others have, and they say it is painful.

The day was an official holiday until 1859.  It is still celebrated in various parts of the England.  

G. D. Williams       © 2011


Oak Apple Morris  Dancers:

Arbor Tree Festival