Also known as Royal Oak Day it used to be a national English celebration of the restoration of King Charles II to the throne in 1660. Charles entered London from exile on his 30th birthday, 29th May and Parliament declared that this day would be recognised as a public holiday. The public holiday remained in place until 1859. The reference to the oak apple comes from Charles hiding in an oak tree at Boscobel House near to Wolverhampton to avoid capture by Cromwell’s Roundhead army.
Many unique celebrations were associated with Oak Apple Day such as the carrying of ‘May babies’ by young girls in Devon villages or the adorning of sticks with flowers and carried by young boys to welcome the summer. Morris dancing was another common celebration for Oak Apple Day, as was dressing up in oak leaves and parading around the village on horseback. Some Dorset villages gilded their oak leaves and these were worn as lapel decorations. Many churches were decorated with oak leaves and even early Victorian railway trains were decorated.
Failure to display an oak apple or leaf led to the charge of being a Roundhead and a punishment of being pinched or thrashed with stinging nettles. In some parts of southern England the pinching, said to come from Charles’ soldiers pinching him to keep him awake in the tree, gave rise to the alternative name of pinch-bum day!
The main celebrations have now died out but there are still some places left in England that hold events in memory of Oak Apple Day, usually where there was close affinity to either the King or the battles of the Civil War.
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