At this time of year we seem to have a flurry of bank holidays. First it was Easter – always grateful for when Easter comes along after the long winter, then in May we are hit with a double whammy – 2 Mondays off in a month woohoo! The first bank holiday in May (May Day) is this coming Monday and its customs go way back. Back in the Dark Ages the Celts divided the year into four major festivals, and Beltane or the “Fire of the Bel” (May Day) represented the first day of summer and bonfires were lit in the celebrations. These pagan festivities did not go down well with the Church or the State and in the sixteenth century May Day celebrations were banned, riots occurred and people were hanged! Henry VIII is said to have pardoned a further 400 who had been sentenced to death. May Day festivities were almost lost when Oliver Cromwell and the Puritans came to power in 1645, which described maypole dancing as “heathenish vanity generally abused to superstition and wickedness” – and that was the end of festivities for a while! Dancing returned to the village greens when Charles II came to power and erected a 40 metre high maypole in the Strand in London –and it remained there for 50 years.
To this day all over the country traditions are still held strong; in Oxford you will find the May Morning revellers gathering below the Great Tower of Magdalen College singing madrigals, some then will leap off the Magdalen Bridge in to the river below, although the bridge has been closed in recent years on May 1st for health and safety reasons! Other May Day celebrations include crowning a May Queen and that oh-so-English of dances – Morris dancing! There is the May Day Run where thousands of motorbikes drive the 55 miles from London to Hastings, this has been tradition for 30 years and is growing in popularity. In Padstow, Cornwall they hold the annual Obby-Oss (Hobby Horse) day of festivities. This is believed to be one of the oldest fertility rites in the UK and revellers dance with the Oss through the streets accompanied by accordion players and followers dressed in white with red or blue sashes who sing the traditional May Day songs. Whatever you choose to get up to on Monday, all of us at Davis Brown Estate Agents in Fitzrovia wish you a fun-filled day off!