Customs and traditions fascinate me. When, how and why did they start? If they still exist have they evolved or are they still carried out the same way they were when they started?
May, for instance, has many customs and traditions attached to it which are still carried out in some parts of the country. Every month has customs and traditions attached to them so I have decided to blog about several of them at the beginning of each month for the next year. Below are two synonymous with May
May-day is mainly known as a bank holiday in the UK and not really celebrated apart from enjoying it as an extra day off from work! In ancient times the beginning of May was a time of celebration as it was seen as the beginning of summer. Revellers would light bonfires which cattle would be herded through and much dancing would be enjoyed, rituals which pleaded with the gods to ensure that high levels of fertility would be reached throughout the summer months (in plants and people!). This has come to be known as the pagan festival of Beltane
A traditional maypole dance
The maypole dance, one of the rituals, is one of the most iconic scenes of May celebrations. I remember doing a maypole dance when I was at primary school but the tradition seems have died out or at least seems to be less widespread these days. A quick search of google shows that there are still places in the UK that carry on the tradition, particularly schools.
The puritans disapproved of the May celebrations and banned things like Maypoles. However, after the reformation they were re-introduced, a notable one was erected in 1661 on the Strand in London standing at 143 feet high. There are many other customs and traditions associated with May-day which are still carried out in parts of the UK, a hunt around google will give you ideas if you want to experience celebrations first hand.
Another less well-known tradition of May is Royal Oak day, which is at the end of May. The traditional celebrations for this day revolve around commemorating the restoration of the English monarchy in May 1660, it was also the birthday of Charles ii. The day was named Oak Apple day because it is thought that the King hid in an oak tree to save his life during a battle. The oak symbol can still be seen on items like stamps and coins and of course there are many pubs with the name of ‘The Royal Oak, such as my village pub!
My Village Pub!
The official observance of the day is said to have been abolished in 1859 but is still a holiday day, now observed in the UK as a bank holiday.
Obviously this is only a potted history, for more information there is a website which is campaigning for the traditional celebrations to be officially marked once again. The link to the website is http://www.royaloakday.org.uk/