May the 1st … the day when for centuries, communities have enacted rituals to mark the arrival of warmer weather and fresh growth in the fields.
In the UK, a lot of the old May Day traditions are pagan in origin and are linked to fertility – traditions such as dancing around the maypole, the crowning of a May Queen, and Morris dancing.
While many of the customs are shared nationally, there are also some famous and, some might say, eccentric events, that are more localised in origin. Here are six of the best.
Beltane Fire Festival, Edinburgh:
On the last night of April and into the early hours of 1 May, thousands of people mark Beltane (Gaelic May Day) by heading to Calton Hill for a theatrical celebration involving fire displays, drumming and a pagan performance.
Glastonbury Tor, Somerset:
Pagans and druids gather at dawn to welcome in Beltane and the return of warmth and light. They re-enact several May Day customs and a procession carries a maypole – a young tree – to Bushy Combe, below the Tor, for maypole dances to take place.
Padstow ‘Obby ‘Oss, Cornwall:
Padstow is turned into a riot of flowers and greenery for the day, as thousands converge to see the two “osses” dance around the streets, followed by their supporters. Various locals take it in turns to don the costumes of Old ‘Obby ‘Oss and Blue Ribbon ‘Obby ‘Oss.
May Morning, Oxford:
Huge crowds get up bright and early to hear Magdalen College choir sing from the top of the college tower at 6am. The bells then ring out for 20 minutes, signalling the start of Morris dancing and a procession through the city.
Clun Green Man Festival, Shropshire
The action takes place on Clun Bridge, where the Green Man defeats the Frost Queen to ensure there will be summer in the valley. To celebrate his victory, the Green Man then leads a colourful parade to the grounds of Clun Castle.
Flora Day, Helston, Cornwall:
Locals festoon the town with floral displays for the ancient Flora Day festival. Four dances take place in the streets, the first starting at 7am. The most famous is the midday dance – The Furry Dance, where participants are chosen by invitation only. Another ancient feature of the day is the Hal-an-Tow Mummers play.
Let’s hope all those May Day rituals do the trick and we get a summer to remember!