This was the day in Medieval England that women returned to their spinning after the holiday season of Christmas and Epiphany. The staff was used to wind wool or flax to aid in the spinning process. On this first day of renewed labor, men would playfully set the women's flax or wool on fire, while the spinners retaliated by drenching the men with pails of water. Gee, sounds like loads of fun!
English poet Robert Herrick famously mentions these activities of Distaff Day his best known ditty:
Partly work and partly play; Ye must on St. Distaff's Day.
From the plow soone free the teame; Then come home and fother them.
If the Maides a-spinning goe; Burn the flax and fire the tow.
Bring the pailes of water then; Let the maides bewash the men.
Give St. Distaff all the right; Then bid Christmas sport good night;
And next morrow, every one, to his owne vocation.