May Day celebrations in years gone by

“Ne-er cast a clout till May be out” is a familiar old saying – but it means wait until the May blossom comes into flower in the hedgerows, not until the end of the month of May.

May Day itself, the first day of the month, was traditionally a time for celebrating the end of winter and the earth’s regeneration, in fields and gardens alike.

St John's School May Day celebrations, Boxmoor, c. 1913.

St John's School May Day celebrations, Boxmoor, c. 1913.

Maypoles stood on village greens all over the country and in Dacorum children in Aldbury still keep up the tradition of dancing and weaving the colourful ribbons around the pole.

The winding of the ribbons is said to represent the tidal patterns of the sun’s energy and the unwinding the spreading growth on earth and the cycle of life.

These children probably did not think about the symbolism of their dances, but were just enjoying the chance to be out in the sunshine and not working at their desks!

It was a great honour to be chosen as the May Queen or one of her attendants and girls vied for the title.

Best white dresses were worn and garlands of flowers as head-dresses or necklaces.

Maia, after whom the month was named, was a Greek and also a Roman goddess of Spring. .

May is sometimes thought of as being unlucky month, however, so lovers were warned “Marry in May and you’ll rue the day.”

People long ago were also warned never to buy a broom or wash blankets in May. Do you recall any old sayings or customs in May?

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