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British Life and Culture

by Mandy Barrow

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British life and culture - England, Scotland and Wales
May Day Celebrations

Introduction to May Day | Maypole Dancing | Morris Dancing

May Day in the Past | May Day Today | Well Dressing

How was May Day Celebrated in the past?

It was custom for every one to go a-Maying early on May Day. Herrick, a 17th century English poet wrote:

There's not a budding boy, or girl, this day,
But is got up, and gone to bring in May.

Decorating Houses

May Day began early in the morning. People would go out before sunrise in order to gather flowers and greenery to decorate their houses and villages with in the belief that the vegetation spirits would bring good fortune.

Washing in the early morning dew

Girls would make a special point of washing their faces in the dew of the early morning. They believed this made them very beautiful for the following year. copyright of

May Queen

May Queen
The rest of the day was given over to various festivities. There was dancing on the village green, archery contest and exhibitions of strength. The highlight of the day was the crowning of the May Queen, the human replica of Flora. By tradition she took no part in the games or dancing, but sat like a queen in a flower-decked chair to watch her 'subjects'.

May Day Garlands

Young girls would make May Garlands. They covered two hoops, one at right angles inside the other, with leaves and flowers, and sometimes they put a doll inside to represent the goddess of Spring.

In some parts of Britain, May 1st is called Garland Day.

The first of May is Garland Day
So please remember the garland.
We don't come here but once a year,
So please remember the garland.

May Day Lifting

There was once a tradition in England of 'lifting' where a gang of young men would lift a pretty girl in a flower bedecked chair on May day. Then the girl would choose a boy on May 2nd.

May Day Tricks

In the North of England, the first of May was a kind of late 'April Fooling' when all sorts of pranks would take place and 'May Gosling' was the shout if you managed to trick someone. The response would be:

'May Goslings past and gone. You're the fool for making me one!'

Click on the right arrow below to find out more about May Day
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Introduction to May Day | Maypole Dancing | Morris Dancing

May Day in the Past | May Day Today | Well Dressing

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All the materials on these pages are free for homework and classroom use only. You may not redistribute, sell or place the content of this page on any other website or blog without written permission from the Mandy Barrow.

© Copyright Mandy Barrow 2013

Mandy is the creator of the Woodlands Resources section of the Woodlands Junior website. 
The two websites and are the new homes for the Woodlands Resources.

Mandy left Woodlands in 2003 to work in Kent schools as an ICT Consulatant. 
She now teaches computers at The Granville School and St. John's Primary School in Sevenoaks Kent.

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