That’s British: with Russ

May Day

We love a bank holiday in Britain. Any excuse for a day off. Maybe it’s because we don’t have huge public holidays; Thanksgiving is not a thing here, for example. So Queen’s birthday, yup will be happy to put our feet up thank you very much.

I’ve touch on our quaint British customs before, but May Day has some of the weirdest and quirkiest, as well as one even us Brits poke fun at; Dancing round the May pole with Morris dancers.

To the best of my knowledge Morris dancers are older men who want an excuse to sit in the sun and drink real ale. And not the new hipster stuff I’m a fan of, the stuff they brew in their cellar and seem to ferment in socks. Fair enough, each to their own, who doesn’t love a bit of day drinking? Why in means you get kitted out all in white, tie bells to your legs, and “dance” while waving a hanky, that’s the bit I don’t get. Here is an example of it:

Alongside this a May Queen is crowed; which is in essence a personification of the springtime. She will ride or walk at the front of a parade. Her duty is to being the May Day celebrations.

In Oxford, it is a centuries-old tradition for May Morning revelers to gather below the Great Tower of Magdalen College at 6 am to listen to the college choir sing traditional madrigals as a conclusion to the previous night’s celebrations. Since the 1980s some people then jump off Magdalen Bridge into the River Cherwell. For some years, the bridge has been closed on 1 May to prevent people from jumping, as the water under the bridge is only 2 feet (61 cm) deep and jumping from the bridge has resulted in serious injury in the past. There are still people who climb the barriers and leap into the water, causing themselves injury

Padstow in Cornwall holds its annual Obby-Oss (Hobby Horse) day of festivities. This is believed to be one of the oldest fertility rites in the UK; revelers dance with the Oss through the streets of the town and even though the private gardens of the citizens, accompanied by accordion players and followers dressed in white with red or blue sashes who sing the traditional “May Day” song. The whole town is decorated with springtime greenery, and every year thousands of onlookers attend. Before the 19th century, distinctive May Day celebrations were widespread throughout West Cornwall, and are being revived in St. Ives and Penzance.

Kingsand, Cawsand and Millbrook in Cornwall celebrate Flower Boat Ritual on the May Day bank holiday. A model of the ship The Black Prince is covered in flowers and is taken in a procession from the Quay at Millbrook to the beach at Cawsand where it is cast adrift. The houses in the villages are decorated with flowers and people traditionally wear red and white clothes. There are further celebrations in Cawsand Square with Morris dancing and May pole dancing.

As much as I mock these rituals, I love our little traditions, quirks and folklore. To me the more the world becomes homogenized, the more these little differences in our country can remind us off our identity. The country has an uneasy history with the Empire, so it’s nice to have these little events to look back on and see how they shape and define us.

Russ Old English word of the blog:

‘hugger-muggery’ (16th century): secretive, clandestine behavior for the purposes of deception.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *