May must be one of the most perfect months in the UK. It has the pleasure of not one but two public holidays, which leads to something of a carnival atmosphere – although a very genteel, English-style one! The weather is warmer (although in Britain it always pays to take a coat, even when the forecast is fine!), the evenings are longer and the countryside is in the first flush of its lush beauty.
The first of these is May Day, the traditional welcoming of the spring, which has all sorts of customs and traditions associated with it, and is celebrated on the first Monday in May. Famously, the choristers from the choir of Magdalen college in Oxford greet the sunrise by singing Hymnus Eucharisticus at the top of the college tower – a tradition which dates back to the 17th century. Following the hymn a bell is rung and Morris dancing takes place in the streets below.
Morris dancing is another popular May Day custom, along with dancing around the maypole. Traditionally, young children dance with ribbons and posies around a maypole, weaving the ribbons into pretty patterns as they dance, and this celebration often features the crowning of a May queen as the embodiment of spring.
It’s a popular weekend for family outings, and many historic buildings and stately homes offer activities and fayres, often with traditional entertainment such as jousting laid on for spectators. If the weather is kind it’s a great excuse to take a picnic and go outside. Bluebells will be coming into peak season around this weekend too, and a trip to Bluebell woods to see the beautiful, almost magical, haze of the delicate flowers is something you shouldn’t miss.
Take advantage of cheap international calls to Poland, Romania and China, and tell everyone about the beauty and eccentricity of an English May Day!