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Painting of King Charles II hiding in an oak tree, aided by a companion, after the Battle of Worcester. The dense foliage and dark forest setting emphasize the secrecy and danger of his escape.

Customs Uncovered: Shit-Sack Day

Happy Shit-Sack Day to one and all! Join us as we dive nose-first into what is perhaps the best-named of all English traditions.

In the grand tapestry of British traditions, from the genteel afternoon tea to the raucous festivities of Guy Fawkes Night, one day stands out for its sheer peculiarity: Shit-Sack Day. Yes, you read that correctly. And no, it’s not a typo. Shit-Sack Day is a bona fide, albeit somewhat forgotten, part of the rich cultural heritage of this fine country. So, buckle up (or should we say, tighten your sack?), as we dive into the fascinating history of this unique day.

First, let’s get the name out of the way. Shit-Sack Day, also charmingly known as Shick Shack Day or Oak Apple Day, is celebrated on the 29th of May. This curious nomenclature has nothing to do with modern sanitation woes but harks back to a time of oak trees, political upheaval, and a king hiding in the bushes. Literally.

Shit-Sack Day: woebetide those who confuse it with Shitten Saturday

The origins of Shit-Sack Day lie in the 17th century, during the tumultuous period of the English Civil War. After the Battle of Worcester in 1651, the future King Charles II found himself on the run from the victorious Roundhead army. His escape is the stuff of legend – he famously hid in an oak tree to avoid capture. This oak tree became a symbol of royalist loyalty, and its leaves and acorns were adopted as tokens of support for the monarchy.

Now, how do we go from a daring royal escape to a day with such a dubious title? The answer probably lies in regional dialects and dodgy word-of-mouth. In some parts of England, especially in the northwest of Somerset and North Devon, children would chant “shit-sack, shit-sack” on this day. Why? The origins are as murky as a bog on a foggy English morning, but one theory suggests it might be a playful corruption of “shick shack” – a local name for oak apples or galls.

Traditionally, Shit-Sack Day (or Oak Apple Day for those with more delicate sensibilities) involved wearing oak leaves or oak apples. Anyone caught without this arboreal accessory risked all manner of malevolent retribution – being pelted with bird’s eggs, pinched, or even thrashed with nettles. All good-natured mischief, of course, and a chance for children to engage in socially sanctioned hooliganism while the adults chin-strokingly pondered the restoration of the monarchy in 1660.

In Upton Grey, the church bells would ring out at 6 am on Shit-Sack Day (known locally in less astounding terms), summoning the village to its leafy festivities. Bell-ringers would place large branches of oak over the church porch and the lychgate. Smaller branches were positioned at the gateways of houses to ensure good luck for the coming year. One can only imagine the mayhem that ensued when someone “forgot” their oak leaf.

In some areas, like Sussex, those failing to don their oak sprig were liable to a good old-fashioned pinching, giving rise to the name Pinch-Bum Day. In Essex, it was known as Bumping Day, which conjures up images of a more physical form of oak-leaf enforcement.

As with many ancient customs, Shit-Sack Day (woebetide those who confuse it with Shitten Saturday) has largely faded into obscurity. Yet, it lingers on in pockets of rural England, where tradition is as stubborn as a mule with a hangover. Modern-day celebrations are less about dodging eggs and more about community gatherings, re-enactments, and a nostalgic nod to the past.

So, the next time you find yourself wandering through the English countryside on the 29th of May, keep an eye out for those proudly sporting oak leaves. You might just have stumbled upon a Shit-Sack Day celebration, where history, hilarity, and a hint of the absurd blend in a way that only these old traditions can manage. And if you’re caught without an oak leaf? Well, don’t say we didn’t warn you.