5 Facts about May Day and the Early May Bank Holiday
All of us know that one person who is a mine of useful 😉 information, and guest blogger Kelly Wallace Horne is one such individual. I have known Kelly for over 20 years, these days she runs her own publishing and marketing business but she is my “go-to” person to unravel many of the mystery’s associated with our much-loved traditions. For the more enquiring amongst you, do have a read of Kelly’s 5 facts about May Day, I certainly learned something!
Take 5 minutes out to learn about May Day…
by Kelly Wallace Horne
1. When/what/why is “May Day”?
The 1st of May is known as “May Day” and traditionally involves dancing around a May Pole, crowning a May Queen, Morris Dancing and generally celebrating the oncoming summer. Celebrations and customs differ from country to culture, but the gist of the celebration is the same throughout.
2. What are May Day traditions?
The tradition of “dancing around the Maypole” is steeped in paganism and is celebrated by various cultures around the world.
Traditionally, a young tree would be felled and erected to dance around in celebration of the oncoming summer. Ribbons and flower garlands would add to a colourful display, fitting to a bright spring day of celebration.
Scotland and Ireland
Back in the Middle Ages the Gaelic people of Scotland and Ireland celebrated the festival of “Beltane”. Beltane means “Day of Fire”. They built large bonfires and danced at night to celebrate – a tradition that many are revisiting now.
In Wales May Day is also known as Calan Mai or Calan Haf. May 1st was an important time for celebration and festivities in Wales as it was considered to be the start of summer. Marking neither an equinox nor a solstice, May Day referred to the point in the year when herds would be turned out to pasture. Again, lighting fires are very much associated with the first of May. In the time of the Druids, fires for the Baltan (see Beltane, above!), represented an opportunity for purification, and to protect animals from disease. These fire-lighting ceremonies were carried out with a great deal of pomp and ceremony!
Walpurgis Night – Some countries celebrate the night before May Day called “Walpurgis Night”. These countries include Germany, Sweden, Finland, and the Czech Republic. The celebration is named after the English missionary Saint Walpurga. Again, people celebrate with large bonfires and dancing.
3. Dancing around the Maypole – what’s that all about?
So, most countries/cultures celebrate May Day with bonfires and dancing, so where does Maypole Dancing come into it? A maypole is a wooden pole, about 3-5 metres tall, erected as a part of a variety of European folk festivals, around which a “maypole dance” often takes place. The festivals may occur on May Day (May 1st) or Pentecost (Whitsun), although in some countries (for example, Sweden) it is instead erected at Midsummer. Historians believe the Maypole Dance originates from Germanic pagan fertility rituals. In simple terms, the ribbons descending from the top of the Maypole will criss-cross as everyone dances, until each participant is united with their ideal partner!
4. How come we get a Bank Holiday for May Day? (Well, some of us do!)
In 1890 the May Bank Holiday became associated with International Workers’ Day as the Second International organised a day of protests in support of an eight-hour working day. After that the 1st May was linked with protests and became an official holiday in 1978. In America, May 1st is known to this day as “Labor Day”. Canada celebrates it’s equivalent on the first Monday in September.
5. So, May Day has nothing to do with planes crashing?!
This is possibly the most misunderstood facts about May Day. “Mayday! Mayday!” is a well-known distress word used by pilots and maritime crews when radioing back to base and other crafts. The “mayday” procedure word was originated in 1923, by a senior radio officer at Croydon Airport in London. The officer, Frederick Stanley Mockford, was asked to think of a word that would indicate distress and would easily be understood by all pilots and ground staff in an emergency. Since much of the traffic at the time was between Croydon and Le Bourget Airport in Paris, he proposed the expression “mayday” from the French m’aidez (‘help me’), a shortened form of venez m’aidez (‘come and help me’). It is entirely unrelated to May Day celebrations and the early May Bank Holiday!
Working or not, enjoy your early May Bank Holiday weekend! My guess is that whatever you’re up to it’ll involve ponies!