Old Customs


The first water drawn from any well or stream on New Year’s morning used
to be called the Flower of the Well, or the Cream of the Well. This water would bring good luck in the new year.

In Mid-January (depending on the area) the apple trees were wassailed.
The word “Wassail” comes from the Anglo-Saxon “Wehal” which means “be of
good health”. Farmers and their families went to the orchards after dark, carrying horns and a large pail of cider. Cider was poured around the roots of a chosen tree, and a piece of toast or cake, soaked in cider, was placed in the branches. A wassailing song was sung to the tree.

Girls can discover their future husband on the Eve of St Agnes by scattering a handful of barley under an apple tree saying: “Barley, barley, I sow thee; That my true love I may see; Take thy rake and follow me.” It is said that the figure of her future husband will follow and take up the seed the girl has scattered.

The cuckoo is considered a lucky bird. Money should be turned in the pocket when the first cuckoo is heard, but never look at the ground while this is done.

Morris Dancers may be seen at Whitsuntide. The Dancers stamp, kick and
jump to waken the earth spirit and bring the crops out of the ground.

On Old Midsummer Day there is a procession in the Isle of Man to Tynwald
Hill. The Governor follows the Sword of State at the head of the procession. They process through lines of guards to a platform. Here the Governor sits on a crimson velvet chair. The Chief Justice reads a list of the Acts of Parliament passed at Westminster during the year. This ceremony shows that the Isle of Man accepts English Acts as law.

On 8 July, the Burry Man walks through the streets of South Queensferry,
West Lothian, Scotland. He is covered in thistle, teazle and burrs, with a head dress made of flowers. He covers his face, and carries a staff in each hand. He talks to no-one but is said to bring good luck to houses he visits.

On the Sunday after August 12th there is a “revel” in Markhamchurch, in Cornwall. The village children chose the “Queen of the Revel” who then leads a procession through the village, riding a white horse.

The Abbots Bromley Horn Dance takes place on the first Sunday after September 4th. This is probably one of the best known of all the “Dances” in the British Isles.

How To Celebrate Beltane with a Maypole Dance

How To Celebrate Beltane with a Maypole Dance


The Maypole is one of the traditional symbols of Beltane, and let’s not kid ourselves about its purpose: it’s a giant phallus.

Because Beltane festivities usually kicked off the night before with a big bonfire, the Maypole celebration usually took place shortly after sunrise the next morning. This was when couples (and probably more than a few surprised triads) came staggering in from the fields, clothes in disarray and straw in their hair after a night of bonfire-inspired lustiness.

Difficulty: Average
Time Required: Varied

Here’s How:

  1. The pole was erected on the village green or common, or even a handy field — thrust into the ground either permanently or on a temporary basis — and brightly colored ribbons attached to it. Young people came and danced around the pole, each holding the end of a ribbon. As they wove in and out, men going one way and women the other, it created a sleeve of sorts — the enveloping womb of the earth — around the pole. By the time they were done, the Maypole was nearly invisible beneath a sheath of ribbons.
  2. To set up your own Maypole dance, here’s what you’ll need:
    • A pole anywhere from 15 to 20 feet long, preferably made of wood
    • Guests who like to have fun

    Dig a hole in advance, a few feet deep. You don’t want your friends to wait while you hunt for a shovel. The hole should be at least three feet deep, to keep the pole from flopping over during the ceremony.

  3. Ask each participant to bring their own ribbon — it should be about 20 feet long, by two to three inches wide. Once everyone arrives, attach the ribbons to one end of the pole (if you put a metal eyelet screw in the pole beforehand, it makes it a lot easier — you can just tie each ribbon to the eyelet). Have extra ribbons on hand, because inevitably someone will have forgotten theirs.
  4. Once the ribbons are attached, raise the pole until it is vertical, and slide it into the hole. Be sure to make lots of bawdy jokes here. Pack dirt in around the base of the pole so it won’t shift or fall during the dance.
  5. If you don’t have an equal number of male and female guests, don’t worry. Just have everyone count off by twos. People who are “1” will go in a clockwise direction, people who are “2” go counterclockwise. Hold your ribbons in the hand that is closest to the pole, your inside hand. As you move in the circle, pass people by on first the left, and then the right, then the left again. If you’re passing them on the outside, hold your ribbon up so they pass under it. You might want to do a practice round beforehand. Keep going until everyone runs out of ribbon, and then knot all the ribbons at the bottom.
  6. One thing that’s always welcome at a Maypole Dance is music. There are a number of CDs available, but there are some bands whose music have a May theme to them. Look for the phrase “Morris music” or traditional pipe and drum tunes. Of course, the best thing of all is to have live music, so if you have friends who are willing to share their skill and sit out the dance, ask them to provide some musical entertainment for you.


  1. If you’re doing a kids’ Maypole, it’s probably easier just to have them all go in one direction with their ribbons. It doesn’t look quite as fancy when it’s done, but it’s still pretty.
  2. You may want to have a crown of flowers attached as well — put that at the top once all the ribbons are in place, but before you raise the pole.

What You Need

  • A pole
  • Lots of ribbon
  • Friends who like to have a good time