The 1st of May has it’s fair share of celebrations associated with it from the well known Worker’s Day which saw the former Soviet Union parading their military might through Red Square to the lesser known counter holiday established in the United States as Loyalty Day. Of course people have celebrated May 1st for much a longer time then either of these countries have had a history.
I will be concentrating on the celebrations found in England though there are similar events that take place in many other areas including Scotland, Wales, areas of the United States. The history of the May Day celebrations go back to at least the Roman empire and perhaps the Celts of England. The time of year when the cold gives way to the warmth of summer the Romans held the festival to honor Flora, the goddess of flowers and fruit.
Many traditions have developed through the years most of which have their origins in pagan rites associated with coming of summer and everything that that indicates, such as fertility and the blooming of the plants. Early on the morning of the 1st children would head out to the woods to “go a-Maying” to collect flowers which they would use to decorate the houses and village. Another early morning ritual was for young girls to bath their faces in the morning dew to ensure that they would be beautiful for the following year. Revelry would fill the rest of the day including May Day Lift, the Crowning of the May Day Queen, parading around with May Day Garlands and of course the most famous tradition the Dancing of the May Poll.
The May Pole dance would be practiced for weeks before the festival around poles that would, in some cases, stand taller then the village church steeple. The tallest known was one in London in the Strand in 1661 when Charles II restored the tradition of the May Poll after the Puritans had banned the practice during their rule. The pole was 134 feet tall and lasted for 40 years before Sir Newton used it in the construction of observation equipment.