Revive May Day traditions
PUBLISHED: 10:57 27 April 2007 | UPDATED: 22:44 28 May 2010
You don t see many maypoles in Fenland. Possibly it s because not every Fenland lady is built for skipping lightly round in circles, on tiptoe. Or possibly it s because Fen folk have always been somewhat shy - and dancing round an erect fertility symbol a
You don't see many maypoles in Fenland. Possibly it's because not every Fenland lady is built for skipping lightly round in circles, on tiptoe. Or possibly it's because Fen folk have always been somewhat shy - and dancing round an erect fertility symbol at dawn takes a lot of nerve or cider.
Nevertheless, at daybreak on May Day (and that means 5.32am on May 1), Peterborough Morris will be dancing on the quay by the city's main bridge and there'll be Molly dancing in Holme Wood, by the Fen Post.
Then, over the May Bank Holiday weekend, King's Lynn will have its May Garland procession, Spalding will have its flower parade and there'll be cheese rolling at Stilton.
We need our own historic May celebration. It wouldn't be difficult.
If Whittlesey can revive the Straw Bear Festival, one of our other towns or villages could easily resurrect one of the ancient traditions associated with the first day of May, which, for centuries, was observed as a pagan festival called Beltane.
On Beltane Eve, in many villages, young couples would be encouraged to "go a-maying" which meant spending the night together in any convenient woodland. I know we're short of woodland in Fenland but youth usually finds a way.
Alternatively, our older couples (and I do mean older) could revive another Beltane custom. At this time, grandparents were allowed to take off their wedding rings for the night and swap partners. It could make going home from bingo quite exciting.
In recent times May Day has become Labour Day, a time for processions expressing pride in your work and solidarity between workers.
This might be more difficult to organise in the Fens. Somehow I can't imagine gangs of white van men, jobbing builders and taciturn farm workers joining up for a jolly march through Wisbech's Horse Fair or holding a rally in Chatteris Business Park - all of them chanting "One for all and all for one."
It might be easier to adopt a custom from Germany where May Eve is called Walpurgis Nacht. On this night, as soon as the sun has set, boys are encouraged to make us much noise as possible to keep everyone awake.
The attraction of this custom is that it already exists on some of our estates.