Needle and Thread Ceremony, OxfordshireOxford University is of course a place rich in history and custom. One of the odder traditions attaching to the place is the needle and thread ceremony that takes place every New Year’s Day at the ‘gaudy’ or celebration held then at Queen's College. The tradition is that the Bursar gives each college Fellow a red thread and a needle with an injunction to “take this and be thrifty”, supposedly to allow them to mend their academic hoods.
In these days of student loans and ever increasing fees thrift is not a bad path to follow. But the origin of the custom is it seems a joke, or actually a rebus – a visual pun: Queen’s, more formally the Queen’s College , was founded in 1341 by Robert de Eglesfield, chaplain to Queen Philippa. The rebus is that in French needle is ‘aiguille’, thread is ‘fil’. Put them together and you get aiguillefil, an approximation of the founder’s name Eglesfield. My how they must have laughed at that one over the centuries.
More British Folk Customs?