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Medieval & Tudor Britain
May Day found a great popularity in medieval and Tudor times. Women rose before sunrise and went into the field to bathe their faces in the dew—an act believed to enhance beauty and restore a youthful complexion. Hawthorn was associated with May, and the gathering of Hawthorn boughs was know as “going-a-Maying.” Accompanied by song. dance, and general merriment, the hawthorn boughs were brought back to the village, and used to garland the throne of the May Queen, a young woman of the village crowned “Queen” for the day. This custom seems to hearken back to celebrations of Flora, keeping alive the knowledge of the goddess of growth and flowers. Flowers gathered on May Eve would be left at houses in the village, in exchange for food and drink. Our custom of leaving baskets on doorsteps has its roots in this tradition. The flower-bears were seen as messengers of spring, and it was thought that those who reward them with generosity were assured abundance in the coming season.
Along with the Queen of May, spectators were also entertained by Robin Hood, Maid Marian, Friar Tuck and other characters modeled from old Pagan customs of the gods of greenwood. Other festivals included games, sports, archery contests, and more dancing. Carols heralding the arrival of spring were sung, and children parade about carrying a doll dressed in white—the “Lady of May.”
People of the village decorated their homes with wreaths and garlands, and a Maypole, cut by the young men and carried into the town with great ceremony, was set up in the village square. Some of these poles reached enormous heights, as the villages competed to have the tallest pole. Ribbons and other decorations were added, and the practice of dancing around the Maypole and weaving ribbons together has become one of our most beloved traditions.
Copyright Llewellyn’s Witches’ Datebook 2001 Pages 21 to 25