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Where did it come from?

What’s the origins of May Day Traditions? May Day is celebrated on May 1st each year, and includes the May Day traditions of music, dance and folklore associated with yesteryear. It is often a chance for communities in towns and villages all over the UK to gather together and enjoy the start of spring, with celebrations such as morris dancing, folk music, dancing around the Maypole and the crowning of the ‘May Queen’. We celebrate the May Day bank holiday on the first Monday in May.

Although its origins can be traced back to Roman times and the festival of Flora (goddess of fruit and flowers). It has long been a popular secular tradition, heralding the start of warmer weather after the colder winter months.

Country dancing

Communities often gather together to host village fetes which often include country dancing. In many parts of the UK, country dancing is a popular activity amongst children in rural parishes, with schools each having their own specific uniform.

One of the most popular of these dances is the Maypole dance, where each participant holds a ribbon connected to the top of the pole. Dancers then weave around one another in a specific pre-ordained pattern until the ribbons are all intertwined around the pole. Dancers then perform the movements in reverse to untangle the woven ribbon. It’s not as easy as it looks!

Morris dancers often visit village pubs or community events to display some of the traditional dances. These often involve sticks and lots of whooping, shouting and yelling! Occasionally, a dance may even involve plucking an unsuspecting woman from the audience. Often as not, dancers may also partake in some hop-based refreshments after their exertions!

Folk music and dance

The growing resurgence of interest in folk music and dance is exemplified by the popularity of venues such as Halsway Manor in Somerset, which is the National Centre for Folk Arts. (The picture shown here is taken on the lawns in front of the beautiful 15th century manor house). The stated mission of Halsway Manor is to promote and support the practice of the traditional folk arts, especially as practised in England.

This includes traditional dance, music, song, folklore, storytelling, arts and crafts. Those wishing to extend their knowledge of the folk arts may access the unique unique library at Halsway Manor. This vast collection contains about 10,000 books and audio recordings about folk music, dance, song, history and folklore. It is free to use for visitors and the public generally. (Interested to find out more? Contact Halsway Manor on 01984 618274 , email office@halswaymanor.org.uk or see website).

Regional customs

There are some specific customs which are unique to towns and villages across the UK. Some more dangerous than others: For example, in Oxford, it was customary for students to leap from the Magdalen Bridge into the River Cherwell below. However, this tradition has resulted in serious injury in the past as the water is only around 60cm deep. Now the bridge closes on May 1st to prevent repetitions.

Does your family or parish celebrate May Day traditions in a specific or unique way? Perhaps your children take part in school celebrations? Of course, we would love to hear! Please post your comments below.

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