While we all know it as an early summer bank holiday, May Day's is about far more than having a day off to relax and recuperate. From its historic beginnings as a fertility festival to the charming traditions that are still upheld today, here at Aspinal of London we've taken a look at what makes May 1st such a significant day in our calendars.
What is May Day?
Traditionally the first month of the summer, May has long been associated with fertility and new beginnings. One of the earliest forms of May Day celebration comes from the Romans who celebrated the Festival of Flora around the beginning of May. Flora is the goddess of flowers, vegetation and fertility, and revellers honoured her by wearing colourful clothing and picking fresh flowers.
In Celtic culture, May Day is more commonly known as Beltane; a festival day that marks the midpoint between the spring equinox and the summer solstice. In countries like Finland, Germany and Estonia, May Day marks the arrival of spring as well as the feast of Saint Walpurgis, an English missionary who lived during the 8th century.
Throughout the UK and many European countries, there are countless wonderful May Day traditions that are still practiced by a handful of communities today. These include:
The May Pole
The May Pole was traditionally a new tree that was planted in time for summer and danced around by May Day revellers. Nowadays, it is often a permanent wooden pole that is decorated for use on the festival day.
A traditional English folk dance, Morris Dancing is performed throughout May by troupes of 6 to 8 people. Accompanied by live music, the dancers dress in costumes which vary regionally but usually feature coloured ribbons and belts. The dancers will sometimes include the May Queen and the Green Man, a person dressed in foliage who symbolises spring.
The May Queen
The Queen of the May was classically a young girl dressed in white who would be crowned with a garland of flowers and perform a speech to open the day's celebrations. Nowadays, the May Queen walks or rides at the front of a May Day parade procession.
Flowers are a staple of most May Day celebrations, with many young girls crafting garlands out of fresh blooms which are then worn during the festivities. At Aspinal of London, florals are a favourite of ours with our suede peach and blush embossed flower Aspinal Tote and matching Heart Coin Purse making the perfect accompaniments to your May Day garland.
How can you celebrate May Day?
There are several places in the UK which have their own May Day traditions that everyone can get involved in:
St Andrews May Day Dip
At St Andrew's in Scotland, hundreds of students and locals run into the sea at East Sands Beach on the morning of the first of May. This is often accompanied with parties and BBQs on the beach.
May Morning in Oxford
In Oxford a hymn is performed by the Magdalen College Choir at dawn before bells are rung to announce the beginning of the summer. There is also Morris Dancing, and many students will jump off the Magdalen Bridge into the River Cherwell for an early morning swim.
In Padstow, Cornwall, the town is decorated with flags and garlands in preparation for the May Day festivities which commonly attracts thousands of visitors each year.
Taking place in Hastings, this weekend long festival starts at dawn with Morris Dancing and folk music. Someone dressed in foliage is the Jack and they are symbolically captured to release the Spirit of Summer.
Beltane Fire Festival
This popular Celtic celebration in Edinburgh revolves around a huge bonfire on top of a hill. Over 10,000 people are drawn to the evening entertainment each year which includes symbolic rituals and dancing. As well as the heat of the bonfire, keep yourself warm in the cool evening air with a tipple out of our Classic Leather Hip Flask.
Be inspired by the floral motifs of May Day and shop our stunning Beautiful Soul range which features some of our most iconic styles adorned with pretty seasonal blooms.