May 032017

Here in Britain we are in the run up to an election and I hasten to add that the title of this post is not meant to have any political connotations. As spring has finally sprung in the south-west of England, I thought I would take a quick look at a few May traditions that take place in communities not too far from me. Sadly, my own places have nothing so special as some of these.

The first thing that comes to mind when you think of the English May-day is Maypole Dancing, a ritual that some believe derived from pagan fertility rites. The practice was frowned upon by those of a Puritanical persuasion and was banned by Cromwell in 1654, only to be restored along with Charles II.

There are other customs that celebrate driving away the darkness of winter and the coming of spring. The 1st of May marks the Celtic festival of Beltane and many May celebrations are associated with fertility. Padstow in Cornwall stages its iconic 'Obby 'Oss Day, when the red and blue 'osses vie for supremacy as their supporters process through the streets to the accompaniment of drums and more accordions than you are likely to see in one place anywhere else.

Also in Cornwall at this time of year is the Helston Flora Day when the Furry Dance is performed through the town as part of the Hal an Tow pageant.

Abbotsbury in Dorset hold Garland Day. Traditionally this was when the fishing fleet was decorated with flowers to bring it luck in the fishing season. The demise of the fleet means that the garlands are now processed through the streets instead.

Kingsteignton in Devon stage a Ram Roast, a Medieval tradition, commemorating the end to an historical drought. The story goes that a ram was sacrificed and the drought ended.

Devon is also the location for the Pilton Green Man festival. This is a more recent combination of the ancient fair for which Pilton was granted a charter in the fourteenth century and Green Man celebrations that are part of a wider May-time folklore tradition.

There are many similar commemorations throughout the country, in May and at other times of year. These occasions really were high days and holy-days for the inhabitants of our places and the traditions are well worth investigating as part of the recreation of the past of our communities.

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