Saturday, 4 May 2013

May Day (Happy May!)

True to History Girl style, as it is now May I thought I ought to do a May related blog, and what better May related blog could there be then a post about the history of May Day?!

In medieval times May Day was celebrated by an annual dance around the maypole - a specially decorated tree. The branches of the tree were cut off and coloured ribbons tied to the top, which the villagers would hold on to as they danced around the tree. The tradition is still very much alive today in many villages across Britain. May Day also included a procession led by the May Queen, often a young girl who was voted into the position alongside a boy for May King. They would dress in green to symbolise springtime and fertility.

In Germany, tradition has it that young bachelors would cut down a fir tree on the eve of May Day, remove the branches, decorate it and then set it up in the village square. The tree had to be guarded all night to prevent it being stolen by neighbouring villages, however trees were often stolen and sold for a meal and a barrel of beer. 

May Day may have possibly originated from Floralia, an end-of-April festival in ancient Rome, where offerings were given to the flower goddess Flora, which followed by more offerings on the 1st May, instead to the goddess Maia, after whom the month May is named. Pagan groups used to call the festival of fertility by it's Celtic name, Beltane.

The Protestant Reformation in the 1600s put an end to all May Day celebrations. The Puritans were horrified at the drinking and dancing that took place, and in 1644 maypoles were banned by Parliament. However, when Charles II was restored to the throne years later, people all over the country celebrated by putting up maypoles as a symbol of loyalty to the crown. In the 19th century the Victorians turned May Day into a children's game of dancing around the maypole, and the pagan aspects of the day were forgotten.

Nowadays people often 'bring in May' by getting up early, gathering flowers, making them into garlands and giving them to their friends. Often people create 'May baskets' for people in need of cheering up.

I hope you all have a lovely weekend and enjoy the warm weather!