Holidays in England
Holidays in England
the part of the culture in every country. If you want to know the other nation,
it’s very important to learn about its history and culture. Let’s know more
about the holidays in England.
Britain's most popular holiday and is characterized by traditions which date
back hundreds of years. Many Christmas customs which originated in Britain have
been adopted in the United States.
Christmas comes from the Old English name 'Cristes Maesse' and is the celebration of the birth of
Jesus. The first recorded observance occurred in Rome in AD360, but it wasn't
until AD440 that the Christian Church fixed a celebration date 25th
decorations in general have even earlier origins. Holly, ivy and mistletoe are
associated with rituals going back beyond the Dark Ages. The custom of kissing
beneath a sprig of mistletoe is derived from an ancient pagan tradition.
tree was popularised by Prince Albert, husband of Queen Victoria, who
introduced one to the Royal Household in 1840. Since 1947, the country of
Norway has presented Britain annually with a large Christmas tree which stands
in Trafalgar Square in commemoration of Anglo-Norwegian cooperation during the
Second World War.
The first ever
Christmas card was posted in England in the 1840s, and the practice soon became
an established part of the build-up to Christmas. Over a billion Christmas
cards are now sent every year in the United Kingdom, many of them sold in aid
children at Christmas time are pantomimes: song and dance dramatizations of
well-known fairy-tales which encourage audience participation.
often sung on Christmas Eve by groups of singers to their neighbors, and
children hang a stocking on the fireplace or at the foot of their bed for Santa
Claus (also named Father Christmas) to fill. Presents for the family are placed
beneath the Christmas tree.
Day many families attend Christmas services at church.
Dinner is the main Christmas meal and is traditionally eaten at mid-day or
early afternoon on Christmas Day. Christmas dinner consists traditionally of a roast turkey, goose or
chicken with stuffing and roast potatoes, brussels, sprouts, roast potatoes,
cranberry sauce, rich nutty stuffing, tiny sausages wrapped in bacon (pigs in a
blanket). This is followed by mince pies and a rich Christmas fruity pudding
flaming with brandy to ward off evil spirits, which might contain coins or
lucky charms for children. The pudding is usually prepared weeks beforehand and
is customarily stirred by each member of the family as a wish is made. Later in
the day, a Christmas cake may be served - a rich baked fruit cake with
marzipan, icing and sugar frosting.
tradition involving the turkey is to pull its wishbone. This is one of the
bones of the turkey which is shaped like the letter 'Y'. Two people will each
hold an end and pull. The person left with the larger piece of the bone makes a
The pulling of
Christmas crackers often accompanies food on Christmas Day. Invented by a
London baker in 1846, a cracker is a brightly coloured paper tube, twisted at
both ends, which contains a party hat, riddle and toy or other trinket. When it
is pulled by two people it gives out a crack as its contents are dispersed.
traditional feature of Christmas afternoon is the Queen's Christmas Message to
the nation, broadcast on radio and television.
Boxing Day is usually celebrated on the following day after Christmas Day,
which is 26 December. However, strictly speaking, Boxing Day is the first weekday
after Christmas. Like Christmas Day, Boxing Day is a public holiday. This
means it is typically a non working day in the whole of Britain. When Boxing
Day falls on a Saturday or Sunday the following Monday is the public holiday.
Traditionally, 26 December was the day to open the Christmas Box to share the
contents with the poor.
boxes were used in different ways. For example, to protect ships. During the
Age of Exploration, when great sailing ships were setting off to discover new
land, A Christmas Box was used as a good luck device. It was a small container
placed on each ship while it was still in port. It was put there by a priest,
and those crewmen who wanted to ensure a safe return would drop money into the
box. It was then sealed up and kept on board for the entire voyage.
If the ship
came home safely, the box was handed over to the priest in the exchange for the
saying of a Mass of thanks for the success of the voyage. The Priest would keep
the box sealed until Christmas when he would open it to share the contents with
boxes were used to help the poor. An 'Alms Box' was placed in every church on
Christmas Day, into which worshippers placed a gift for the poor of the parish.
These boxes were always opened the day after Christmas, which is why that day
became know as Boxing Day.
A present for
the workers. Many poorly paid workers were required to work on Christmas Day
and took the following day off to visit their families. As they prepared to
leave, their employers would present them with Christmas boxes.
late 18th century, Lords and Ladies of the manor would "box up" their
leftover food, or sometimes gifts and distribute them the day after Christmas
to tenants who lived and worked on their lands.
tradition still continues today. It is customary for householders to give small
gifts or monetary tips to regular visiting trades people (the milkman, dustman,
coalman, paper boy etc.) and, in some work places, for employers to give a
Christmas bonus to employees.
Boxing Day is the day when families get together. It is a day of watching
sports and playing board games with the family.
celebration of New Year's day varies according to the district. In the south of
England, the festival of Christmas, lasting 12 days from December 25th, runs on
well into the New Year. The decorations of coloured streamers and holly, put up
round the walls, and of course the fir-tree, with its candles or lights, are
not packed away until January 5th. On the evening of December 31st, people
gather in one another's homes, in clubs, in pubs, in restaurants, and hotels,
in dance halls and institutes, to "see the New Year in". There is
usually a supper of some kind, and a cabaret, or light entertainment. The bells
chime at midnight. The people join crossed hands, and sing "Auld lang
syne", a song of remembrance, which means "the good old days,"
was written by Robert Burns in 1788.
There is also
a very interesting tradition of the “first guest”. The British people let in
every person who knock in the door after the clock struck 12, and if it is a
tall black-haired man, the year will be successful. This first guest brings
some coal, some bread and some salt, that mean wellness and happiness. He silently
comes to the fireplace which consider to be the heart of the house and throw
there coal there. Then he may be talked to, and congratulated.
Year's resolutions – pledges to change for the better in the coming year – is a
common activity associated with this holiday. It is traditional to make toasts
on New Year's Eve as
well. Typically, the old year is represented by "Father Time," an
elderly man with a flowing gray beard, and the new year is represented by an
celebration of the new year is the oldest of all holidays. It was first
observed in ancient Babylon about 4000 years ago. In the years around 2000 BC,
the Babylonian New Year began with the first New Moon after the first day of
spring. The beginning of spring is
a logical time to start a new year. After all, it is the season of rebirth, of
planting new crops, and of blossoming.
continued to observe the new year in late March, but their calendar was
continually tampered with by various emperors so that the calendar soon became
out of synchronization with the sun. In order to set the calendar right, the Roman senate, in 153
BC, declared January 1 to be the beginning of the new year.
Middle Ages, the Church remained opposed to celebrating New Years. January 1
has been celebrated as a holiday by Western nations for only about the past 400
it was thought that one could affect the luck they would have throughout the
coming year by what they did or ate on the first day of the year. For that
reason, it has become common for folks to celebrate the first few minutes of a
brand new year in the company of family and friends.
New Year foods are also thought to bring luck. Many cultures believe that
anything in the shape of a ring is good luck, because it symbolizes
"coming full circle," completing a year's cycle, For example, donuts.
February 14 is
Valentine's Day. Although it is celebrated as a lovers' holiday today, with the
giving of candy, Valentine flowers, or other gifts between couples in love, it originated
in 5th Century Rome as a tribute to St. Valentine, a Catholic
hundred years prior to the establishment of Valentine's Day, the Romans had
practiced a pagan celebration in mid-February commemorating young men's rite of
passage to the god Lupercus. The celebration featured a lottery in which young
men would draw the names of teenage girls from a box. The girl assigned to each
young man in that manner would be his companion during the remaining year.
In an effort
to do away with the pagan festival, Pope Gelasius ordered a slight change in
the lottery. Instead of the names of young women, the box would contain the
names of saints. Both men and women were allowed to draw from the box, and the
game was to emulate the ways of the saint they drew during the rest of the
year. Needless to say, many of the young Roman men were not too pleased with
the rule changes.
Instead of the
pagan god Lupercus, the Church looked for a suitable patron saint of love to
take his place. They found an appropriate choice in Valentine, who, in AD 270
had been beheaded by Emperor Claudius.
determined that married men made poor soldiers. So he banned marriage from his
empire. But Valentine would secretly marry young men that came to him. When
Claudius found out about Valentine, he first tried to convert him to paganism.
But Valentine reversed the strategy, trying instead to convert Claudius. When
he failed, he was stoned and beheaded.
days that Valentine was imprisoned, he fell in love with the blind daughter of
his jailer. His love for her, and his great faith, managed to miraculously heal
her from her blindness before his death. Before he was taken to his death, he
signed a farewell message to her, "From your Valentine.” The phrase has
been used on this day ever since.
lottery for women had been banned by the church, the mid-February holiday in
commemoration of St. Valentine was still used by Roman men to seek the
affection of women. It became a tradition for the men to give the ones they
admired handwritten messages of affection, containing Valentine’s name.
Valentine card grew out of this practice. The first true Valentine card was
sent in 1415 by Charles, duke of Orleans, to his wife. He was imprisoned in the
Tower of London at the time.
symbol of the holiday, became associated with it because he was the son of
Venus, the Roman god of love and beauty. Cupid often appears on Valentine
Unlike most of
the other nonfoolish holidays, the history
of April Fool's Day, sometimes called All Fool's Day, is not totally clear. It
is not like Halloween, where despite an interesting history, most people just
put on Halloween costumes, get candy, and leave it at
that. There really wasn't a "first April Fool's Day" that can be
pinpointed on the calendar. Some believe it sort of evolved simultaneously in
several cultures at the same time, from celebrations involving the first day of
point in time that can be identified as the beginning of this tradition was in 1582, in France. Prior to that year, the new year was celebrated for eight days, beginning on March
25. The celebration culminated on April 1. With the reform of the calendar
under Charles IX, the Gregorian Calendar was introduced, and New Year’s Day was
moved to January 1.
communications being what they were in the days when news traveled by foot,
many people did not receive the news for several years. Others, the more
obstinate crowd, refused to accept the new calendar and continued to celebrate
the new year on April 1. These backward folk were labeled as "fools"
by the general populace. They were subject to some ridicule, and were often
sent on “fools errands” or were made the butt of other practical jokes.
harassment evolved, over time, into a tradition of prank-playing on the first
day of April. The tradition eventually spread to England and Scotland in the
eighteenth century. It was later introduced to the American colonies of both
the English and French. April Fool's Day thus developed into an international
fun fest, so to speak, with different nationalities specializing in their own
brand of humor at the expense of their friends and families.
for example, April Fool's Day is actually celebrated for two days. The second
day is devoted to pranks involving the posterior region of the body. It is
called Taily Day. The origin of the “kick me” sign can be traced to this
performed on April Fool's Day range from the simple, (such as saying,
"Your shoe's untied, or I accidentally stepped on your glasses!), to the
elaborate. Setting a roommate's alarm clock back an hour is a common gag.
Whatever the prank, the trickster usually ends it by yelling to his victim
jokes are a common practice on April Fool's Day. Sometimes, elaborate practical
jokes are played on friends or relatives that last the entire day. The news
media even gets involved. For instance, a British short film once shown on
April Fool's Day was a fairly detailed documentary about “spaghetti farmers”
and how they harvest their crop from the spaghetti trees.
Day is a "for-fun-only" observance. Nobody is expected to buy gifts
or to take their "significant other" out to eat in a fancy
restaurant. Nobody gets off work or school. It's simply a fun little holiday,
but a holiday on which one must remain forever vigilant, for he may be the next
As with almost
all "Christian" holidays, Easter has a secular side as well. The
dichotomous nature of Easter and its symbols, however, is not necessarily a
always had its non-religious side. In fact, Easter was originally a pagan
festival. It was co-opted by Christian missionaries starting in the second
Saxons celebrated the return of spring with an uproarious festival
commemorating their goddess of offspring and of springtime, Eastre. When the
second-century Christian missionaries encountered the tribes of the north with
their pagan celebrations, they do what Christian missionaries have always done;
they attempted to convert them to Christianity. They did so, however, in a clandestine
It would have
been dangerous for the very early Christian converts to celebrate their holy
days with observances that did not coincide with celebrations that already
existed. To save lives, the missionaries decided to spread their dogma slowly
throughout the populations by allowing them to continue to celebrate pagan
feasts, but to do so in a Christian manner.
happened, the pagan festival of Eastre occurred at the same time of year as the
Christian observance of the Resurrection of Christ. It made sense, therefore,
to alter the festival itself, to make it a Christian observance as pagans were
slowly indoctrinated. The early name, Eastre, was eventually changed to its
modern spelling, Easter.
The date of
Easter. Prior to A.D. 325, Easter was variously celebrated on different days of
the week, including Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. In that year, the Council of
Nicaea was convened by emperor Constantine. It issued the Easter Rule which
states that Easter shall be celebrated on the first Sunday that occurs after
the first full moon on or after the vernal equinox. The "full moon"
in the rule is the ecclesiastical full moon, which is defined as the fourteenth
day of a tabular lunation, where day 1 corresponds to the ecclesiastical New
Moon. It does not always occur on the same date as the astronomical full moon.
The ecclesiastical "vernal equinox" is always on March 21. Therefore,
Easter must be celebrated on a Sunday between the dates of March 22 and April
Season. Lent is the forty-six day period just prior to Easter Sunday. It begins
on Ash Wednesday. Mardi Gras (French for "Fat Tuesday") is a
celebration, sometimes called "Carnival," practiced around the world,
on the Tuesday prior to Ash Wednesday. It was designed as a way to "get it
all out" before the sacrifices of Lent began.
highlight of the year for Christians is Easter, the day when they believe that
Jesus rose from the dead. Lent is a forty-day season of preparation for Easter.
Lent always begins on a Wednesday, called Ash Wednesday.
Why 40 days?
Because, of the bible story that tells of how Jesus fasted and was tempted in
the wilderness for 40 days. Lent, then, is a time of fasting, prayer,
temptation and repentance for believers. Lent is not required anywhere in
scriptures, but it has been a custom, which Christians have practiced for most
of the last two thousand years.
Bunny. The Easter Bunny is not a modern invention. The symbol originated with
the pagan festival of Eastre. The goddess, Eastre, was worshipped by the
Anglo-Saxons through her earthly symbol, the rabbit.
Egg. As with the Easter Bunny and the holiday itself, the Easter Egg predates
the Christian holiday of Easter. The exchange of eggs in the springtime is a
custom that was centuries old when Easter was first celebrated by Christians.
earliest times, the egg was a symbol of birth in most cultures. Eggs were often
wrapped in gold leaf or, if you were a peasant, colored brightly by boiling
them with the leaves or petals of certain flowers. Today, children hunt colored
eggs and place them in Easter baskets along with the modern version of real
Easter eggs – those made of plastic or chocolate.
in Great Britain (or Mothering Sunday) is similar to the March 8th
in Russia. It is celebrated on 14th of March. It refers to Victorian
times when children in an early age worked away from home, and the money earned
by them, remitted to the family budget. One day a year the children were
allowed to spend at home with their parents. Usually they brought mothers and
grandmothers small gifts - bouquets of flowers or fresh eggs. Today the British
children in this day give mothers flowers and do all the housework by themselves.
In the early
17th century in England, people began to celebrate mother's Sunday
(Mothering Sunday) in the fourth Sunday of Lent. This was a celebration of all
mothers of England. With the spreading of Christianity in Europe, this Sunday
was the feast of the Mother Church - the spiritual force that gives life and
protect from evil.
Over time the
church festival blended together with a secular holiday. Since it was a time of
rich aristocrats and huge mansions, most of the workers worked and lived in the
homes of their owners. On Mother’s Sunday all the servants got a day off, they
returned to their families to spend the day with their mothers. The atmosphere
of that day gave a special cake, called the "mother’s pie." This day
was supposed to visit mothers and bring them a gift of a cake to exchange it
for a mother's blessing.
Mother's Day is very pleasant. Women have a rest, and their men do housework
and cook dinner.
husbands take their wives to restaurants to celebrate the holyday. Children
present flowers, cards and other gifts to moms. Congratulations to your mom is
necessary in whatever part of the world may she be located in this day.
commemorate or celebrate something. But what about Halloween? What is Halloween
actually a celebration of? And how did this peculiar custom originate? Is it,
as some claim, a kind of demon worship? Or is it just a harmless vestige of
some ancient pagan ritual where folks get together for parties, dress up in
Halloween costumes and bob for apples?
itself, "Halloween," actually has its origins in the Catholic Church.
It comes from a contracted corruption of All Hallows Eve. November 1, "All
Hollows Day" (or "All Saints Day"), is a Catholic day of
observance in honor of saints. But, in the 5th century BC, in Celtic Ireland,
summer officially ended on October 31. The holiday was called Samhain (sow-en),
the Celtic New Year.
One story says
that, on that day, the disembodied spirits of all those who had died throughout
the preceding year would come back in search of living bodies to possess for
the next year. It was believed to be their only hope for the afterlife. The
Celts believed all laws of space and time were suspended during this time,
allowing the spirit world to intermingle with the living.
still-living did not want to be possessed. So on the night of October 31,
villagers would extinguish the fires in their homes, to make them cold and
undesirable. They would then dress up in all manner of ghoulish costumes and noisily parade around
the neighborhood, being as destructive as possible in order to frighten away
spirits looking for bodies to posses.
better explanation of why the Celts extinguished their fires was not to
discourage spirit possession, but so that all the Celtic tribes could relight
their fires from a common source, the Druidic fire that was kept burning in the
middle of Ireland.
tell of how the Celts would burn someone at the stake who was thought to have
already been possessed, as sort of a lesson to the spirits. Other accounts of
Celtic history debunk these stories as myth.
adopted the Celtic practices as their own. But in the first century AD, Samhain
was assimilated into celebrations of some of the other Roman traditions that
took place in October, such as their day to honor Pomona, the Roman goddess of
fruit and trees. The symbol of Pomona is the apple, which might explain the
origin of our modern tradition of bobbing for apples on Halloween.
In Greek mythology,
goddesses of the underworld were often used to invoke the Samhain. Popular Greek Goddess costumes portray Hecate and Medusa. Hecate was
the most favored goddess by Zeus, and wandered the emptiness between the worlds
of life and death looking for souls of the dead. Both were considered serpent
goddesses, and their ancient dark legends spawned myths such as vampires, who
fed off the living using venom and snake-like fangs. Ritualistic dress includes
snake adornments and three headed masks. Today, Hecate is often referred to as the
goddess of witches.
The thrust of
the practices also changed over time to become more ritualized. As belief in
spirit possession waned, the practice of dressing up like hobgoblins, ghosts,
and witches took on a more ceremonial role.
The custom of
Halloween was brought to America in the 1840's by Irish immigrants fleeing
their country's potato famine. At that time, the favorite pranks in New England
included tipping over outhouses and unhinging fence gates.
The custom of
trick-or-treating is thought to have originated not with the Irish Celts, but
with a ninth-century European custom called souling. On November 2, All Souls
Day, early Christians would walk from village to village begging for "soul
cakes," made out of square pieces of bread with currants. The more soul
cakes the beggars would receive, the more prayers they would promise to say on
behalf of the dead relatives of the donors. At the time, it was believed that
the dead remained in limbo for a time after death, and that prayer, even by
strangers, could expedite a soul’s passage to heaven.
Jack-o-lantern custom probably comes from Irish folklore. As the tale is told,
a man named Jack, who was notorious as a drunkard and trickster, tricked Satan
into climbing a tree. Jack then carved an image of a cross in the tree's trunk,
trapping the devil up the tree. Jack made a deal with the devil that, if he
would never tempt him again, he would promise to let him down the tree.
the folk tale, after Jack died, he was denied entrance to Heaven because of his
evil ways, but he was also denied access to Hell because he had tricked the
devil. Instead, the devil gave him a single ember to light his way through the
frigid darkness. The ember was placed inside a hollowed-out turnip to keep it
some cults may have adopted Halloween as their favorite "holiday,"
the day itself did not grow out of evil practices. It grew out of the rituals
of Celts celebrating a new year, and out of Medieval prayer rituals of
Europeans. And today, even many churches have Halloween parties or pumpkin
carving events for the kids. After all, the day itself is only as evil as one
cares to make it.
Elizabeth I died in 1603, English Catholics who had been persecuted under her
rule had hoped that her successor, James I, would be more tolerant of their
religion. James I had, after all, had a Catholic mother. Unfortunately, James
did not turn out to be more tolerant than Elizabeth and a number of young men,
13 to be exact, decided that violent action was the answer.
A small group
took shape, under the leadership of Robert Catesby. Catesby felt that violent
action was warranted. Indeed, the thing to do was to blow up the Houses of
Parliament. In doing so, they would kill the King, maybe even the Prince of
Wales, and the Members of Parliament who were making life difficult for the
Catholics. Today these conspirators would be known as extremists, or
To carry out
their plan, the conspirators got
hold of 36 barrels of gunpowder - and stored them in a cellar, just under the
House of Lords.
But as the
group worked on the plot, it became clear that innocent
people would be hurt or killed in the attack, including some people who even
fought for more rights for Catholics. Some of the plotters started having
second thoughts. One of the group members even sent an anonymous letter warning
his friend, Lord Monteagle, to stay away from the Parliament on November 5th.
letter reached the King, and the King's forces made plans to stop the
Guy Fawkes, who was in the cellar
of the parliament with the 36 barrels of gunpowder when the authorities stormed
it in the early hours of November 5th, was caught, tortured and executed.
if the conspirators would ever have been able to pull off their plan to blow up
the Parliament even if they had not been betrayed. Some have suggested that the
gunpowder itself was so old as to be useless. Since Guy Fawkes and the other
conspirators got caught before trying to ignite the powder, we'll never know
Even for the
period which was notoriously unstable, the Gunpowder Plot struck a very
profound chord for the people of England. In fact, even today, the reigning
monarch only enters the Parliament once a year, on what is called "the
State Opening of Parliament". Prior to the Opening, and according to custom,
the Yeomen of the Guard search the cellars of the Palace of Westminster.
Nowadays, the Queen and Parliament still observe this tradition.
On the very
night that the Gunpowder Plot was foiled, on November 5th, 1605, bonfires were
set alight to celebrate the safety of the King. Since then, November 5th has
become known as Bonfire Night. The
event is commemorated every year with fireworks and burning effigies of Guy
Fawkes on a bonfire.
Some of the
English have been known to wonder, in a tongue in cheek kind of way, whether
they are celebrating Fawkes' execution or honoring his attempt to do away with
This Friday is
on the eve of Easter Sunday, when Christians remember the day of the
crucifixion of Jesus. Date of Good Friday varies from year to year. Anglo-Saxon
name of the Holy Friday (Good Friday) was “Long Friday”, because of the hard
post, that was on that day, so the day seemed very long.
On this day
Jesus was crucified and died for our sins.
Good Friday is
a statutory holiday in most of the United Kingdom. This means that people do
not work, many institutions and companies do not work too. In the churches a
special three-hour service and prayer is hold, especially at 3 o'clock, which
is considered an hour of Jesus' death. Some churches hold a dramatic reading.
Church is not decorated at Good Friday, because it’s a day of mourning.
traditionally eat «hot cross buns» - warm buns with a cross, sweet and
fragrant. There is even a special ceremony for «hot cross buns». Also
traditionally people eat fish instead of meat on this day.
A child born in
the Good Friday or Easter Sunday, blessed with invulnerability.
do not go to sea in a Good Friday. On this day people do not work in the field
Soaked in milk
baked in the Good Friday bun treat stomach pains. Bread which is made on this
day, do not stale. The bun from Good Friday will save the house from fire.
The first day
of the month of May is known
as May Day. It is the
time of year when warmer weather begins and flowers and trees start to blossom.
It is said to be a time of love and romance. It is when people celebrate the
coming of summer with lots of different customs that are expressions of joy and
hope after a long winter. Traditional English May Day celebrations include
Morris dancing, crowing a May Queen and dancing around a Maypole.
summer does not officially begin until June, May Day marks its beginning. May
Day celebrations have been carried out in England for over 2000 years. The
Romans celebrated the festival of
Flora, goddess of fruit and flowers, which marked the beginning
of summer. It was held annually from April 28th to May 3rd.
The month of May has many
traditions and celebrations. For the convenience of the general public, many
May Day activities have now been moved to the new May Day holiday (from 1978)
on the first Monday of the month. This Monday is a bank
holiday, a day off school and work.
Many of the
May Day celebrations take place at the weekend as well as on the 'May Day'
Monday. The weekend is known as bank holiday weekend because it comes with the
extra day holiday on the Monday.
On May Day,
people used to cut down young trees and stick them in the ground in the village
to mark the arrival of summer.
around the tree poles in celebration of the end of winter and the start of the
fine weather that would allow planting to begin.
once common all over England and were kept from one year to the next. Schools
would practice skipping round the pole for weeks before the final show on the
results would be either a beautiful plaited pattern of ribbons round the pole
or a tangled cat’s cradle, depending on how much rehearsing had been done.
dance seen throughout the month of May is Morris Dancing. It is a traditional
English form of folk dancing, performed by groups of men and women.
has been danced for hundreds of years, and passed down through the generations
in the villages of rural England. The dances are usually performed at festivals
such as May Day, Whitsun and
several thoughts to the origins of Morris Dancing. The name may refer to the
possibility of the form of dancing coming to England from the Moors of North
Africa; or it may have been called 'Moorish' simply because the dancers
sometimes painted their faces black, and people compared this to the dark-skinned
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.
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.
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”.
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 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.