The English are strange. I’m allowed to say that, I am English! For the past 20+ years I’ve been living under a rock when it comes to May Day celebrations. It’s a Bank Holiday here in the UK, but I’ve always spent it camping at Truckfest, in a little bubble of trucks and lorries. This year, to shake things up, me and my family spent the weekend in Hastings, not realising when it comes to May Day, they take it pretty seriously! Put it this way, I woke up Monday morning to see a woman dressed as a bush run by the caravan!
The 1st May is technically May Day, but celebrations of summer will usually take place on the 1st Monday in May, as this is a Bank Holiday in the UK! Many of the houses and buildings in Hastings were decorated with leaves, foliage and coloured ribbons.
Jack in the Green
Jack in the Green evolved from the ‘leaf decorations’ mentioned above. Over time the decorations almost turned into a bit of a competition, people would make garlands with leaves and flowers and they got bigger and bigger until one covered a man from head to toe! He got the name of Jack in the Green! On Bank Holiday Monday, a parade takes place, people dress up in strips of green fabric, paint their faces green and follow the ‘Jack’ through the town. At the end of the parade, the ‘Jack’ is slain/burnt to release the spirit of summer! (Unfortunately I missed the parade, a downside to caravanning is once you have to check out of the caravan park, you’re then stuck with a giant caravan that’s hard to park anywhere!)
Morris Dancing is a type of traditional English Folk Dance that dates back to the 15th century. The main musical instruments used in Morris Dancing are accordions, guitars and drums and usually the dancers have bells attached to their shins and will dance with sticks or white hankies.
The whole of Hastings Old Town was filled with groups of dancers from all over the country, dressed in all different colours. Thanks to the bells, you could hear them coming before you saw them! They’d then just pick a random place in the street and start dancing! It was such a positive, ‘party’ atmosphere.
My favourite group were slightly more quirky than traditional! They were dressed in black and purple, with DM boots, had a gothic/steam punk look with top hats and ‘Mad Max’ goggles! Check them out in the short video below! This is a folk dance telling a story about hunting a bear.
Have you been to a May Day celebration?