May Day has been celebrated for centuries and although today, for many it just marks a bank holiday weekend, throughout the years it has been celebrated in many different ways. It’s thought to have begun to celebrate the beginning of summer however in more recent times it has been a day to celebrate worker’s rights meaning over the years it has seen many protests and riots.
Morris dancing and the maypole are perhaps the first things you think of when you think about May Day and the iconic image has been around since the beginning of the tradition. Other traditions include decorating houses with floral garlands and organising community festivals and parties to celebrate the occasion.
• The earliest celebrations were thought to have been in the Roman era. Youths would celebrate the beginning of spring with a day of dancing dedicated to the goddess Flora.
• People would crown ‘The May Queen’ the human replica of the goddess Flora with a floral crown. The May Queen wouldn’t take part in the activities of the day; she would sit like a queen being served by her ‘subjects’.
• Throughout the medieval times May Day celebrations were dedicated to Robin Hood and saw songs and plays performed to celebrate the coming of spring.
• In the 16th century, maypoles were put up in villages to mark the bonding of a community.
• Rumour has it that Mayfair in London is named after an 18th century celebration which got particularly out of hand.
• The May Day bank holiday wasn’t introduced until 1978 by Labour.
• In 2000 and again in 2001, serious riots broke out in London where buildings were destroyed and in 2001, 54 people were arrested.
• Today, many parts of the country still celebrate it traditionally with Padstow, Cornwall holding a yearly BBQ and music and dance festival.
• This year in London, human rights activists will continue to use May Day to strive for social and economic justice.
• The Deptford Jack Parade (a revival of a Jack in the Green from the early 1900’s) http://www.deptford-jack.org.uk/mayday2015.htm will take place on May Day where they will take the Jack around Deptford with the original flowers troop.
• Another May Day tradition which will also be taking place is the Islington Milkmaids Garland. A local female Morris dance group will revive the old tradition of milkmaids dressing up for the day with special garland.
What are you up to today and this weekend? Let us know if you’ve got any traditional May Day activities coming up or whether you’re just planning to relax!