So I’ve grabbed my tassels and streamers and I’m ready for the pole dance.
I really look forward to this original style of dancing. I wouldn’t say that I was any kind of expert, however, but I did win a dance competition in the 1990s, in Leyland, Lancashire. It was for the ‘most unusual dance’. Never won any dance prizes since. But at this time of year I always try to join in or at least witness the pole dancing.
May Day celebrations have taken place for thousands of years, particularly in the northern European countries. Remnants of the old Beltane celebrations still exist, including the Maypole dancing and the selection of the May queen. Beltane was the Celtic and Gaelic festival of summer – bearing in mind the shift of two weeks in the calendar would make a difference to the weather and it was likely that it was quite warm by then, certainly the tree blossom would be out in all its glory. Cattle would be put out to pasture and the Beltane festival would include rituals to protect the beasts from disease, which involved decorating the animals with flowers. The festival folk also asked the gods to help with fertility of the cattle, crops and people. Incidentally, it coincided with the Roman festival of Flora, the goddess of flowers and so the customs complemented each other with lots of flowers around.
When Christianity took over, Beltane, like many other pre-Christian festivals, became re-branded as a Christian celebration. In this instance Beltane became May Day – Mary’s Day. Added to the fun was traditional English morris dancing, fetes and craft stalls.There were often visits to wells, which were sacred and connected to many saints, including Saint Modwen (read about her in Gulfyrian). In modern times there are often parades and home-made maypoles and the dance around the main Maypole that left an intricate weaved pattern of ribbons. In some places festivities include well-dressings. A May queen is chosen to symbolise purity and youth and she starts the celebrations.
And like all good traditional festivals, Oliver Cromwell banned May Day when England was in its brief state of being a republic. Not that anyone took any notice of that. In the twentieth century May Day became associated with labourers and was declared a bank holiday in many countries to honour the workers.
But whatever the reason, I enjoy the celebrations especially as there involves a holiday in England. This year I have my own Maypole to dance around, too. I’m wishing for a good summer with lots of flowers, tomatoes and peas. And tassels and streamers.