May Spring Festival
The 1st of May has also to some extent retained its old significance - that of a pagan spring festival. In ancient times it used to be celebrated with garlands and flowers, dancing and games on the village green. A Maypole was erected - a tall pole wreathed with flowers, to which in later times ribbons were attached and held by the dancers. The girls put on their best summer frocks, plaited flowers in their hair and round their waists and eagerly awaited the crowning of the May Queen. The most beautiful girl was crowned with a garland of flowers. After this great event there was dancing, often Morris dancing, with the dancers dressed in fancy costume, usually representing characters in the Robin Hood* legend. May-Day games and sports were followed by refreshments in the open.
* (Robin Hood - central figure of certain romantic stories, told in old English ballads, of a band of outlaws living in Sherwood Forest near Nottingham. Was a famous bowman, who robbed the rich to give to the poor. Associated with him in the stories are Little John (nickname given in irony), Maid Marian, Friar Tuck. All figure in the morris dance of the old May games.)
This festival was disliked by the Puritans* and suppressed during the Commonwealth,** 1649-60. After the Restoration*** it was revived but has gradually almost died out. However, the Queen of May is still chosen in most counties, and in many villages school Maypoles are erected around which the children dance. The famous ceremony of the meeting of the 1st of May still survives at Oxford, in Magdalen College. At 6 o'clock in the morning the college choir gathers in the upper gallery of the college tower to greet the coming of the new day with song.
* (Puritans - radical members of the Church of England in the 16th and 17th centuries.)
** (Commonwealth - the Commonwealth was the Parliamentary republic of 1649-1653, during which the "Rump" Parliament (consisting of the purged House of Commons only) legislated under a State Council headed by Oliver Cromwell as Protector.)
*** (Restoration - after the death of Cromwell, Charles II returned in April 1661; the "Cavalier Parliament", which sat till 1679, was elected, the House of Lords was restored, and the Church of England re-established.)
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