The jingle of Morris bells and the flutter of pastel coloured ribbons and green laurel adorning front doors on the warmer days confirms May Day is upon us.
Although Summer is generally thought to start in June, traditionally May Day is the festival that signifies the start of the Summer marked by celebrations including Morris dancing at dawn, crowning a May Queen and King and children dancing around a Maypole. These traditions are age-old and originally started around 2000 years ago. The earliest recording of such a celebration in the United Kingdom is of people dancing around a tall birch pole in central Wales in the mid-14th Century. The custom increased in popularity to its height in the early 15th Century. In later times the Maypole was viewed by some as a pagan ritual and as such was thought of as a heathen pursuit to the point of being banned.
The Maypole is a tall wooden pole, adorned with flowers and ribbons and the dancing around it is a celebration of the return of the warmth and comfort of Summer. The tallest Maypole was erected in The Strand, London reaching 130 feet and it stood until it was blown over by a high wind in 1672 and was moved to Wansted in Essex and served as a mount for a telescope of Sir Isaac Newton.
The Maypole dance is performed by pairs of boys and girls standing at the base of the Maypole holding the end of a ribbon, the other end of which is attached to the top of the Maypole. As they dance, boys going one way and girls going the other, they intertwine the ribbons until they meet at the base.
The May Queen is a young girl who walks at the front of a May Day parade, usually in a white gown to symbolise purity, and wears a crown or garland of flowers. She begins the May Day celebrations when other children dance around the Maypole.
The Maypole tradition is less common now but can still be a strong symbol to bring communities together in a positive way. Locally it can still be seen occasionally in Battle town and at the Medieval Fayre.