Do you know the May Day traditions?
An ancient northern hemisphere spring festival, May Day traditions are celebrated by many cultures in many different countries. To celebrate this year’s May Day, our Warwick hotel thought it best to check your knowledge of the UK’s May Day traditions…
When is May Day usually celebrated?
May Day is a holiday usually celebrated on 1st May, but did you know that it is not a public holiday unless it falls on a Monday? Since 1978 the Spring bank holiday has always fallen on the first Monday of the month, and because 2018’s May Day falls on a Tuesday, the bank holiday will be on Monday 7th May.
When does May Day date back to?
The celebration of May Day dates back when the Romans celebrated the festival of Flora. She was the goddess of flowers and spring, and an apt idol to look up to at this time of year. As Europe became Christianised, pagan holidays became less religious and May Day became a popular secular celebration.
Did you know that May Day was banned by Puritan parliaments but restored in 1660? The 18th century saw many Roman Catholics observe May in relation to the Blessed Virgin Mary, and they continue to do so to this day. In the late 20th century, many neopagans began reconstructing traditions so May Day is slowly starting to take its place as a pagan religious festival.
How does the UK celebrate?
The UK joins together to say ‘Goodbye winter, hello spring!’ and as they have done for many years, the old customs celebrating new life and fertility are still re-enacted. UK celebrations include Morris dancing and dancing around the maypole, as well as fairs, fetes and general fun. A May Queen will be crowned, to honour the goddess Flora, and people will come together from far and wide to celebrate the land, fertility and livestock.
All around the country, different areas and counties have their own way of celebrating the day. In Oxford, people gather under the Great Tower of Magdalen College to listen to the college choir sing. In Durham, students gather on Prebend’s Bridge to see the sunrise, eat and sing.
Believed to be one of the oldest fertility rites in the UK, Padstow holds an annual Obby-Oss day of festivities that includes revellers dancing in the streets with accordion players singing the traditional May Day song, clothed in white with red or blue sashes. May Day has been celebrated in Scotland for centuries as it was previously associated with the Beltane festival.
Where does Morris dancing come from?
Morris dancing dates back at least 600 years but there is some debate about where it originated and what it means. Most of the Morris groups that exist today were formed after the 1930s, though some groups like Abingdon and Chipping Campden, can trace their roots all the way back to the 1800s!
You will be able to find Morris dancers at pubs, on village greens and in the streets all over the country. Did you know that the Wessex Morris Men climb above the Cerne Abbas Giant at 5.15am? Or that the Men of Wight Morris dancers circle the megalithic Longstone at Mottistone as the sun comes up? That’s dedication.
Countries in Asia, Russia, Estonia, Italy and Greece are just some of the places that celebrate May Day or an equivalent. Be sure to read our blog featuring what’s on in Warwickshire this May so you can celebrate yourself.