Today is May Day in England, Scotland, and Wales!

Have you seen movies about Camelot? Often they show Guinevere outside dancing and playing in the flowers with her maidens.  If you have read “Return of the Native” by Thomas Hardy?   Yes, I lived in England as a little girl, but they didn’t introduce me to May Day. I was introduced to May Day because I was an English major at the university and read about the May Pole Dance and the fairs held on May Day. I am amazed they didn’t invite the Americans, my family, to join them when they celebrated May Day because they invited us on other British holidays like Guy Faux night. Maybe they thought everyone knew about it because when I began looking up the Maypole Dance, I learned that May Day is a really big deal in a lot of places in England.

The first of May is not technically designated as the first of summer, but they call May Day the celebration of the beginning of summer.  It is a time of lots of flowers.  It is a time of romance.  Many romantic relationships begin on this day.  The flowers and the trees are blossoming.  It is older than 2,000 years. They probably don’t even know when it began.  Although, it may have begun by the Romans because April 28th- May 3rd was the Festival of Flor for the Romans, and the Romans were in England in ancient times along with the Pict, the Gaelic, and the Saxons.  Each village in England celebrates on what they call “the village green,” or we may call it the fair grounds. They have a kind of fair every year on May 1st. There are several things they do:  They do the May Pole Dancing, crown the queen of May, decorating their houses, and do Morris Dancing.

woman wearing brown long sleeved shirt holding round glass terrarium
Photo by Juliana Stein on Pexels.com

When I read about the May Pole Dancing, it sounded like a lot of fun.  They take just the trunk without the branches of a tree and place it in the middle of the village green. They attach long ribbons to the top of it. People practice before time dancing around the May Pole. On May Day, the young men and women go to the May Pole and hold on to the ribbons dancing around the May Pole.  When I read about it many years ago, I had the impression that many romances were established during this dance.

Besides the May Pole Dance, they also have a May queen.  The young women all wake early in the morning and wash their faces with morning dew to make themselves prettier.  At the village green, one of them is chosen as May queen and crowned with a crown of flowers.  After that, she sits on a “throne,” a chair completely decorated with flowers. She is the queen of May Day. She sits on that throne all day presiding over her subjects and watching the festivities. She doesn’t take part in any of the dances.

photo of pink bougainvillea
Photo by Lisa Fotios on Pexels.com

Early in the morning on May Day, people get up and go out into the woods and bring back flowers and other greenery.  They decorate their houses with flowers and other greenery from the forest and make garlands with flowers.  The whole day is about flowers.

three woman with face paintings
These ladies would have been called Moors in old England./Photo by Bestbe Models on Pexels.com

Many wear bells on their knees.

They also have the Morris Dances.  These are folklore dances performed for the others.  They consist of groups of dancers. The groups have 6-8 dancers to a group. They dance in two lines or in a circle.  They paint their faces black and wear tattered clothing.  They aren’t sure, but they think perhaps the Moors who came to England from North Africa began these dances because of the black faces.  I would say the name “Morris” Dances also gives a clue they probably came from the Moors.  That is what the English used to call black people. The dancers wear different costumes all over England, Scotland, and Wales according to what part of the country they are from.  Many wear bells on their knees.  They carry sticks with handkerchiefs on them and bang their sticks together with other’s sticks. They play lively music with a noisy band. They have accordions, fiddles, and drums.

Besides these, they have archery contests and exhibitions of strength.  The young men also play tricks on people like  they do on April fool’s Day. If someone plays a trick on you, and you fall for it, you are called a “May Gosling.” Today in England, Scotland, and Wales sounds like fun.  I heard of the May Pole before I read about it in Thomas Hardy’s “Return of the Native,” but I didn’t know how I knew.  Perhaps I heard of it when I was a little American girl living in England. It would have been fun if we had been invited to one of these celebrations.


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