Spring is now well under way, so what does that mean? Flowers sprouting? Longer days? Naked tress gowning themselves in green leather once again? Well, in today’s world, people are obsessed with staying one step ahead of the game, which means that moving through spring indicates we should prepare for summer. And no day marks this belief stronger than May Day – the whole day is dedicated to celebrating the start of summer and the flourishing of new life.
You have seen the Morris dancing, right? Smalls groups of men and women either stand in two lines or as once circle, jumping up and down in an English based folkdance. Some have bells strapped to their knees and some carry long sticks which they bang together, like a safe version of sword fighting. All the dancers wear dozens of coloured pelts across their torso in a technicolour, shredded jacket (which, combined with the fast-moving dances, can make your eyes go dizzy.) The music they dance to is usually very lively, making spectators clap along and jump up and down themselves; it is accompanied by an accordion or a fiddle player.
These are logs of birch wood stuck into the ground, angled upward as though to hold up the clouds. Long, wide cuts of ribbon are tied to the top and dancers circle the pole in crisscrossing patterns, forming a silky weave as ribbons tangle and untangle.
Fun fact: did you know that Oliver Cromwell and his Puritan followers called maypole dancing a “heathenish vanity”, and so banned it in 1660? It wasn’t until Charles II erected a 40-metre high pole in London that the love for the bright tradition was remembered.
All Hail the May Queen.
For all those young women or school girls out there who would enjoy being honoured all day, sitting back and watching everyone else get sweaty through dancing, and wearing a tiara of flowers, find yourself a May Queen election. A pretty, well-behaved and obedient girl is chosen every year to be the representation of the goddess Flora, the Roman goddess of fruit and flowers. It is believed that this tradition comes from the first few May Day celebrations 2000 years ago where a young girl would represent the Virgin Mary before her church, symbolic of new life and beauty.
Tradition or Modern Twists?
There are some festivities included in past celebrations or events unique to a particular place or era. There are also some facts that you may find interesting about May Day.
- A Latin song or hymn is sung from the rooftops of a college in Oxford ever year, bringing in the May Day morning. After this, the bells start to ring to commence the Morris dancing on the streets below.
- Oliver Cromwell was not the only person to ban the celebrations of May Day. In fact, in more puritanical times, the Church forbid activities due to the day’s pagan origins.
- The day falls on the first Monday of May every year, exactly half a year on from November 1st. It is therefore believed that November and May are like opposite sides of a clock, one commencing winter, and the other, summer.
- During medieval times, some of the festivities revolved around Robin Hood as it is believed the Morris dancing was derived from the way his merry men would perform their folkdances. However, this did not last for very many years.
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