Paul Pitcher Day: A Celebration of Hard Work, Community and Togetherness
Not everyone can lay claim to a special event that bears their name. We all have birthdays and other special occasions throughout the year, but an annual event marked with our name — that’s something rather unusual.
For Paul Pitcher — and for other people with the name Paul Pitcher around the world — this is a reality. The name Paul Pitcher is immortalized by an event held every year in the English county of Cornwall.
Paul Pitcher Day is a celebration that has evolved greatly over the years. We’re going to be taking a look at this special holiday, its origins and its significance, as well as examining the community that gave the holiday its start. Read on to learn more.
Introducing the Special Day
Paul Pitcher Day began as a prelude to a very important holiday in the Christian calendar, the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul. This holiday is celebrated across the Christian world, and marks the point at which Paul of Tarsus — a man who would eventually become one of Jesus’ most trusted, and most followed, disciples — converted to Christianity. However, different regions have different ways to celebrate and different traditions of observance. It is one of the unique traditions of the English county of Cornwall that eventually evolved to become Paul Pitcher Day.
The Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul is held each year on January 25th. Just like with many other Christian festivals and holidays of other religious denominations, the run-up to the special day is almost as important as the day itself.. This is particularly true in Cornwall on the Eve of the Feast of St. Paul.
On the night before the feast, pitchers, pots and other water containers would be smashed, either with stones or from being hurled — or “pitched” at a door. This is a traditional activity that has taken place for centuries in towns and villages across Cornwall, and it is this act of “pitching”, or the name of the “pitcher” vessel itself — combined with the name of the Saint whose feast is observed on the following day — that gives us the title “Paul Pitcher Day”.
So, the day is not necessarily a celebration of people with the name Paul Pitcher, but it is an inclusive celebration of tradition, community and togetherness. The practice of observing Paul Pitcher Day in the traditional way has gone out of fashion in recent years, but the team behind the Paul Pitcher Day website are doing great work in re-igniting interest in this ancient tradition. In doing so, the team have invited input and comment from people named Paul Pitcher all over the world.
This is a great tradition that Paul Pitcher and the rest of the Pitcher family are very happy to be associated with. Let’s take a look in a little more detail.
The Earliest Origins of Paul Pitcher Day
Modern day Cornwall is known for its beautiful scenery, rugged coastline and strong cultural identity. To this day, Cornwall has retained its own language, known as Cornish or Kernewek, a protected tongue that has more in common with Medieval Celtic languages than with contemporary English.
Its unique position in the extreme southwest of England, on a peninsula that juts far out into the Atlantic, has captured the imagination of artists and writers for generations. Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca — later made into an acclaimed film by Alfred Hitchcock — is set here, as is Winston Grahame’s popular series of Poldark novels.
In the ancient world, Cornwall was famous too, but during these times that fame was the result of the rich seams of tin that were found beneath the area’s rolling hills and wild moorlands. Cornwall’s tin exports — and its tin miners — were well known across Europe and into the Middle East, where Phoenician traders put a high price on this precious resource from the southern British Isles.
It was through this association with the Mediterranean and the Middle East that Cornwall found itself on the radar of the Roman Empire, who invaded the British Isles three times, finally conquering their new territory 44 years before the birth of Christ. Roman influence was already strong in Cornwall following the Roman invasion of Brittany in modern day France some 10 years earlier, but it was the eventual annexation of Cornwall by Rome that paved the way for travelers from across the empire to visit Britain’s wild southwest for the first time.
- The beginning of Christianity in Cornwall
One of these travelers, according to Cornish tradition, was none other than Jesus Christ himself. Jesus’ visit to Cornwall and to the broader Cornish Peninsula — including the modern counties of Devon and Somerset — is etched deeply into the legends and lore of this part of England. It is said that Jesus arrived in Cornwall with his uncle, Joseph of Arimathea, and the two traveled around the region, putting down roots for the earliest arrival of Christianity in the British Isles.
Cornwall — thanks in no small part to the legends of Jesus and Joseph’s travels in the county — quickly became a bastion of Christian faith as it spread across the world, and Christian holidays became a huge part of the local calendar.
- The story of St. Paul and The Feast of St Paul’s Conversion
One such holiday is the Feast of St Paul’s Conversion, held on January 25th. St. Paul is among the most important of all of Jesus’ followers, and was born into the Jewish faith in modern day Turkey. His early years found him studying in Jerusalem under the leading Rabbi of the Jewish world, Gamaliel — teaching that would make him abhor and fear the growing Christian movement, often violently persecuted those he felt were blaspheming against Judaism. He was even present at the stoning of St. Stephen, the first martyr of Christian tradition, with some accounts claiming that Paul — then still known by the name Saul — ordered the stoning.
It is this violently anti-Christian past, and its contrast with the important Biblical figure he would become, that makes the story of Saul/Paul so fascinating to Christians. While on his way to the city of Damascus in Roman Syria, Saul and his followers were stopped in their tracks by a bright light and a voice from the heavens. The voice identified itself as Jesus, and he informed the terrified Saul that soon he would know what it was he must do.
Saul was left blind by the encounter, and was led into the city of Damascus by his men. He remained in this state for three days, neither eating nor drinking, and in great distress. After three days, a man named Ananias came to Saul’s quarters in Damascus, having been instructed to do so by his own vision of Jesus. He laid his hands upon Saul and instructed him to rise, delivering the gift of sight as well as the love of Jesus. In this act, Saul was converted to the Christian faith, and would spend the rest of his days preaching the word of the Lord, mainly under the Roman name with which he is now synonymous: Paul.
The Long-standing Tradition of Paul Pitcher Day
The Syrian territories of the Roman Empire at the turn of the first millennium might seem like a world away from Cornwall in the modern period, but the Feast of St Paul’s Conversion eventually became one of the most important holidays in the Cornish year.
But it is not the Feast Day itself that gives us Paul Pitcher Day. Rather, it is the day before: the Eve of the Feast of St Paul. It is on this day that an interesting tradition sprang up among the tin mining communities in this corner of the United Kingdom. The miners, wearied by their hard and often dangerous work, and certainly deserving of some fun and respite, would ceremoniously smash a water container, or pitcher. Once the water container lay destroyed, a new container would be produced, which would then be named as a beer pitcher, rather than a water pitcher. The miners would take the beer pitcher to the nearest tavern, where it would be duly filled up with its new — and arguably more exciting — contents.
There is more than one way to break a jug, of course. Miners would variously line the pots up against a wall and hurl rocks at them until they smashed into pieces, or they would pick the pots up themselves and launch them against the nearest hard surface, often a door or other entrance. Either way, the results were largely the same. In this sense, the word “pitcher” can either refer to the “pitcher of water” that was subjected to the abuse, or the act of “pitching”, or throwing, rocks or pots during the destruction. The miners who gathered to participate in the custom were known as Paul Pitchers.
This was a big deal across Cornwall for a long time, although different localities and communities developed their own variations of the practice. In the town of Bodmin, for example, the younger members of the community would gather the pieces of broken pot and carry them in a procession through the area to mark the coming feast day.
- An important holiday to the local community
The day itself sounds like a whole lot of fun, and undoubtedly it was. It’s important to remember how tough life could be in these mining communities, particularly several hundred years ago. Giving miners a few days off to enjoy themselves and engage in some harmless — and very enjoyable — traditions meant a lot to these communities, and it’s easy to imagine miners growing very excited in the run up to the Eve of St Paul’s Conversion, and to the Feast Day that lay beyond it.
However, the idea of “doing things in the right way”, and being rewarded for it, is always very important in local traditions right across the world. Over the years, a number of superstitions and beliefs developed around the Feast of St Paul’s Conversion, grafting themselves to the more traditional Christian customs. This included the idea of the Feast of St Paul’s Conversion being an auger for the coming planting, growing and harvesting seasons. While tin mining was the foundation of the Cornish economy in these times, agriculture was also crucial, and communities would struggle to survive in years when crops failed and livestock died away. As such, any good omen was welcomed wholeheartedly by the local community.
A verse recorded in the Cornish Western Antiquary in 1884 demonstrates how important the Feast of St. Paul’s Conversion was in this regard.
If Paul’s Fair be fair and clear,
We shall have a happy year
But if it be both wind and rain
Dear will be all kinds of grain
If the winds do blow aloft
The wars will trouble this realm full oft
If clouds or mist do dark the sky
Great store of birds and beasts shall die.
It’s easy to imagine how the seemingly jovial and frivolous traditions of the Eve of St Paul’s Feast would take on a far greater importance when viewed in this context. While the miners and local communities certainly had a lot of fun during these shenanigans, the idea of doing things the “proper way” and of laying the groundwork for a good omen for the rest of the year, would certainly have been kept in mind.
Paul Pitcher Day Today: The People’s Holiday
Cornwall is no longer reliant on its tin mining industry. In fact, the last working tin mine in the region, the South Crofty mine at Camborne, was closed in 1998 as tin prices dropped and the area’s economy became more diverse. Nor is agriculture quite as important to the area as it once was — Cornwall is a modernized county, just like all others in the United Kingdom, and receives produce, groceries and other supplies largely from outside of its boundaries. Traditional Christian holidays — outside of major holidays such as Christmas and Easter — are no longer recognized with the widespread fervor that they enjoyed in the past.
As a result, the holiday has changed significantly since those early years. In some communities in Cornwall, pots are still smashed and stones are still pitched, and, of course, beer is still drunk, during this venerable celebration. The event itself is now described as “The People’s Holiday”, emblematic of the traditional working class values that the holiday has represented throughout the centuries, and has in fact gained a far wider audience outside of the county of Cornwall.
Today, we live in a digital age, and it is much easier for people to discover new knowledge and new activities to enjoy. The internet has brought the story of Paul Pitcher Day to thousands of people across the world, and the day has found a brand new audience way beyond Cornwall and beyond even the British Isles.
Organizers of the Paul Pitcher Day website are seeking the thoughts and feedback from anyone named Paul Pitcher. On the website you will find a comment form — if you are one of the many Paul Pitchers found throughout the world, you are invited to contribute your comments, and let the website’s owners know what you think about this fascinating tradition.
This is a holiday that bears the name Paul Pitcher, but in essence Paul Pitcher is about far more than this. It is about the traditions and culture of a local region — something all of us can relate to when we look around in our own communities and think about the pastimes and customs that comprise the local identity and character. It is about communities coming together to eat, drink and celebrate, even in the midst of winter. It is about hope for the future and for a good year ahead. It is about ordinary working men and women enjoying a moment of respite and recognition. It is about hard work, and the rewards that are gained from it.
If your name is Paul Pitcher too, get in touch with the Paul Pitcher Day team and let them know your thoughts. If not, check out the great Paul Pitcher Day website and discover more about a truly fascinating cultural tradition.
A Reason for Celebration and for Commemoration: The Wider Significance of January 24th and 25th
A brief rundown of some of the other births, death, milestones and historic moments that took place on Paul Pitcher Day and on the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul itself.
- A major leap forward in space technology: In 1990, the Japanese space program launched Hiten on January 24th, the first deep space probe to utilize aerobraking as part of its maneuvers. It was also the first robotic lunar probe to be launched since the Soviet Luna 24 some 14 years earlier.
- The birth of the Mac: Love them or loathe them, you cannot help but admit that Apple’s Mac and MacBook computers have revolutionized the way we approach information technology. January 24th, 1984 was a big day for Apple, as their first Apple Macintosh computer went on sale, becoming the first successful use of a graphical user and interface on a personal computer, and introducing the world to the computer mouse.
- Frederick the Great is born: Frederick the Great ruled Prussia for 46 years from 1740 to 1786, and became known as a ruthless military genius and a strong ruler. His story began on January 24th 1712, when he was born into the House of Hohenzollern, to Frederick William I of Prussia and Princess Sophia-Dorothea, the sister of the future George II of Great Britain.
- A milestone in international relations: The United Nations is something we take for granted these days, despite all of the great work it does to achieve global harmony and accord. However, back in 1946, the organization was still in its infancy, and January 24th marked the UN’s first Resolution — Resolution 1 — resulting in the founding of the United Nations Atomic Energy Commission (UNAEC).
- Neil Diamond’s birthday: Neil Diamond may not be named Paul Pitcher, nor does he have any ties to Cornwall — or at least not that we know of — but January 24th is still an important day for the singer-songwriter. On this day, Neil Diamond was born to Akeeba and Rose Diamond in Brooklyn, New York in 1941.
- Gold is struck: The California Gold Rush is a huge part of American history, especially on the west coast where 300,000 people descend on mining towns and gold-panning hotspots in search of vast fortunes. All of that began on January 24th in 1848, when James W. Marshall first found traces of gold at the Sutter’s Mill claim in Coloma, California.
- The beginning of the end of slavery in Brazil: Slavery represents one of the most horrific periods in human history, and its abolition was a painfully slow process. In Brazil, the abolitionist cause took a major leap forward in 1835, with the beginning of the Malê slave revolt on January 24th. Carried out by predominately Muslim slaves in the Bahia region of Brazil, the rebellion was the beginning of the end for slavery in this newly independent nation.
- Winston Churchill passes away: Winston Churchill is one of the United Kingdom’s most charismatic and iconic leaders, and was Prime Minister for two non-consecutive terms. It is his tenure during the Second World War that cemented his place in history, although his life has been celebrated for his many other deeds, actions and sharp, witty remarks. On January 24th, 1965, that life came to an end.
- The eve of Burns Night: At the opposite end of the British Isles, and in a region that never fell under the yoke of Roman control, late January is also a time of celebration and festivity. On January 25th, people in Scotland celebrate Burns Night; a night of festivities and poetry to mark the life of one of the region’s most famous literary figures, Robert “Rabbie” Burns.
- Virginia Woolf celebrates her birthday: Virginia Woolf provided us with some of the classic texts of modernist literature, including novels such as Mrs. Dalloway and To the Lighthouse. She was born on the Feast of St Paul’s Conversion, January 25th in Kensington, London and went on to become one of the most loved writers in the English language.
If you’re interested, find out more about the Pitcher Family name here.