May Day Traditions
The first day of the month of May is known as May Day. The weather is getting warmer (well usually it is) and flowers and trees are starting to blossom. There are many different customs that people celebrate at this time to show the joy and happiness of the long winter they have left behind.
Traditional English May Day celebrations include Morris Dancing, crowning a May Queen and dancing around a Maypole.
The earliest Maypoles were part of a celebration of Summer which would be linked in with mystical things like tree worship and more basic things like an excuse for dancing and having a good time.The first maypoles were made from trees cut down and re erected in the village greens. The earliest recordings of maypoles are in the 16th & 17th Centuries, none of these maypoles had ribbons so the dances were probably any circular dances that were popular at the time. Some of these maypoles still stand today.
The Maypole Dancing that people know today, happened because John Ruskin introduced it at Whitelands College in 1881 and created a series of dances and a May Pageant. Generations of teachers learnt all about these and took them wherever they went on to teach and by the middle of the 20th century it had become a major tradition, much of which survives to the present day but for some years had been dying out as fewer teachers knew the dances. Fortunately over the last few years Maypole Dancing has had a bit of a revival for all sorts of reasons to do with a greater awareness of our own culture and the sheer enjoyment by dancers and audience alike.
Did you know?....
The tallest maypole is said to have been erected in London on the Strand in 1661; it stood over 143 feet high. It was felled in 1717, when it was used by Isaac Newton to support Huygen's new reflecting telescope.
Other poignant days in May are...
5th May - 1930 Amy Johnson was the first woman to fly solo from England to Australia
6th May - 1840 The world’s first postage stamp, the ‘Penny Black’ stamp, became valid for use in the UK
8th May - VE (Victory in Europe) Day This year marks the 75th Anniversary
12th May - In 1820 Florence Nightingale was born
18th May - In 1955 The first Wimpy Bar opened in London
21st May - 1946 Bread rationing introduced in the UK
29th May - Oak Apple Day - This is the day traditionally to wear oak apples or leaves to remember on this day that Charles II returned to London after the restoration of the monarchy in 1660