May Day customs
Mayday celebrations and festivities are buried in the vaults of time.  The ancient celts and druids celebrated Beltane in honour of the Sun God Bel at the beginning of spring and the first seed planting.
 
The Saxons made the eve before the last day of April their festival time.
 
From the 12th to 15th centuries many towns and villages had maypoles so tall and heavy they had to be buried deeply in the ground.  They remained standing throughout the year and only on May Day were they decorated with flower crowns, ribbons and streamers.  
 

In other villages at dawn young men and women would go into the forest.  The men would choose a tree, strip it of its branches and carry it to the village green ready to be put up and decorated for the day’s celebrations.  Meanwhile the young women would be gathering flowers, greenery, ribbons and streamers to garland the maypole.  Maypole dancing then involved young men and women holding ribbons and weaving in and out with no definite pattern and lingering to kiss on the way.


In the 1600s May Day celebrations and processions were banned by Oliver Cromwell for being pagan and sinful.  However, in some parts of England villages continued to celebrate using a simplified ceremony, where the May Baby (thought to be a depiction of the Spring goddess Flora) was symbolised by a garlanded 'cage' on a pole.  It was not until 1660 with the restoration of King Charles II that joyous May Day celebrations and festivities emerged from the severity of the Puritan regime.


Queen Victoria’s subjects reinvented the May Day Traditions under the guise of the ‘Merrie England Festivals’.  Maypole dancing became more intricate and patterns and plaiting of the ribbons whilst dancing was imported from Europe in the 1880s.


A favourite practice with young girls was carrying a garland of flowers and ribbons.  This was held by two of the girls, with another holding a doll in a box covered with a cloth.  They would go from house to house asking the inhabitants if they would like to see the May Baby in the hope that they would make a contribution of money.  In our procession, we continue this tradition using a decorated hoop garland held by two girls over the May Queen and Prince; the May Baby is now carried on a cushion; and we also carry the 'cage' on a pole.