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May Day in the UK and Finland

Adapted from the Wikipedia page on May Day

In the UK

May Queen on village green, Melmerby, England

Traditional British May Day rites and celebrations include Morris dancing, crowning a May Queen and celebrations involving a maypole. Much of this tradition derives from the pagan Anglo-Saxon customs.

Morris dancing on May Day in Oxford, England, in 2004.

May Day has been a traditional day of festivities throughout the centuries. May Day is most associated with towns and villages celebrating springtime fertility (of the soil, livestock, and people) and revelry with village fetes and community gatherings. Perhaps the most significant of the traditions is the maypole, around which traditional dancers circle with ribbons.

The May Day bank holiday, on the first Monday in May, was traditionally the only one to affect the state school calendar, although new arrangements in some areas to even out the length of school terms mean that Good Friday (a common law holiday) and Easter Monday (a bank holiday), which vary from year to year, may also fall during term time. The Spring Bank Holiday on the first Monday in May was created in 1978; May Day itself – May 1 – is not a public holiday in England (unless it falls on a Monday).

Queen Guinevere‘s Maying

In Oxford, it is traditional for May Morning revellers to gather below the Great Tower of Magdalen College at 6:00 a.m. to listen to the college choir sing traditional madrigals as a conclusion to the previous night’s celebrations. It is then thought to be traditional for some people to jump off Magdalen Bridge into the River Cherwell. However, the water is only 2 feet (61 cm) deep and jumping from the bridge has resulted in serious injuries in the past. The bridge is now closed on May Day for safety reasons, but there are still people who insist on climbing the barriers and leaping into the water, causing themselves injury.

In Durham, students of the University of Durham gather on Prebend’s Bridge to see the sunrise and enjoy festivities, folk music, dancing, madrigal singing and a barbecue breakfast. This is an emerging Durham tradition, with patchy observance since 2001.

Whitstable, Kent, hosts a good example of more traditional May Day festivities, where the Jack in the Green festival was revived in 1976 and continues to lead an annual procession of morris dancers through the town on the May Bank Holiday.

In Hastings, a similar festival started in 1983 and has become a major event in the town calendar. A traditional Sweeps Festival is performed over the May bank holiday in Rochester, Kent, where the Jack in the Green is woken at dawn on May 1 by Morris dancers.

Near Maidstone, at 7:15 p.m. on May 1 each year, the Kettle Bridge Clogs morris dancing side dance across Barming Bridge (otherwise known as the Kettle Bridge), which spans the River Medway near Maidstone, to mark the official start of their morris dancing season.

In northern parts of rural Cumbria, it is also known as Ashtoria Day, a celebration of unity and female bonding. Although not very well known, it is often cause for huge celebration.

From London to Hastings, the Maydayrun involves thousands of motorbikes taking the 55-mile (89 km) trip. The event has been taking place for almost 30 years now and has grown in interest from around the country, both commercially and publicly. The event is not officially organised; the police only manage the traffic, and volunteers manage the parking.

Padstow in Cornwall holds its annual Obby-Oss (Hobby Horse) day of festivities. This is believed to be one of the oldest fertility rites in the UK; revellers dance with the Oss through the streets of the town and even through the private gardens of the citizens, accompanied by accordion players and followers dressed in white with red or blue sashes who sing the traditional ‘May Day’ song. The whole town is decorated with springtime greenery, and every year thousands of onlookers attend. Prior to the 19th-century distinctive May day celebrations were widespread throughout West Cornwall, and are being revived in St. Ives and Penzance.

In Totnes, Devon, the Dartington Morris Men welcome the summer by dancing at dawn inside Totnes castle walls.

At the University of St Andrews, some of the students gather on the beach late on April 30 and run into the North Sea at sunrise on May Day, occasionally naked. This is accompanied by torchlit processions and much elated celebration.

Finland

Celebrations among the younger generations take place on May Day Eve, see Walpurgis Night in Finland, most prominent being the afternoon ‘crowning’ of statues in towns around the country with a student cap.

May Day is known as Vappu, from the Swedish term. This is a public holiday that is the only carnival-style street festivity in the country. People young and old, particularly students, party outside, picnic and wear their graduation caps or other decorative clothing. The wearing of graduation caps earned from high schools and universities, although still common, is not so strictly observed, as so many young people graduate these days. Vappu is also a huge commercial event, with cafes and bars putting tables out on the streets and hiring live entertainment.

Vappu Bikes

Parades of motorbikes, veteran and American cars and other special vehicles are an important part of the day and need to be orchestrated by the police. Click HERE for a video of American cars in Vaasa.

Some Finns make a special lemonade from lemons, brown sugar, and yeast called “sima“. It contains very little alcohol, so even children can drink it. A similar product can also be bought in all stores. Some Finns also make doughnuts and a crisp pastry fried in oil made from a similar, more liquid dough.

Balloons and other decorations like paper streamers are seen everywhere.

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