in a May Day mood

When I was very young, I used to take part in Country Dancing at my primary school. Every week from the beginning of spring, Mrs Payne had a class of us dance around the school field, the ribbons adorning our clothes fluttering with the movement of our little bodies in the fresh spring sunshine. The return of these lessons was one of the first signs that spring had finally arrived.

At that age we didn't need a lot of encouragement to play outdoors when the weather was pleasant, and despite living in North London we had use of a large playing field which neighboured a host of allotment plots along one edge, and a "secret" hedgerow along one of the adjacent edges. It was in this field that a great deal of my favourite childhood memories occurred: it was here that my love of butterflies emerged, after
days of chasing and attempting to identify them; it was most likely here that my interest in flowers, plants and trees (and the identifying of, naturally) came about; and it was here that a large portion of my social skills started forming - I mean, how long can a child spend looking for new flowers or caterpillar's cocoons on their own behind the forbidden hedgerows? After a while I craved some normal human interaction, and the playtime games we invented, as well as the dance class activities, are yet another fond memory.

Country Dancing certainly entailed a fair amount of interaction - some dances were done in pairs and some in larger groups. In some dances we had ribbons (and I'm sure I remember bells), and in some we danced, weaving in and out, about a maypole strung with a vivid rainbow of brightly-coloured ribbons.

image by Julie of Lensmatter

Historically, the maypole may have first been used in the early Mediaeval period, and is believed by some to represent a sacred tree, which is in line with the celebration of spring as a festival of rebirth and renewal - in Denmark, for example, maypoles are known as "May trees". Others have claimed that maypoles are phallic symbols, which is still pretty much in line with the concept of birth, growth and fertility, as the notion of spring evokes, though of course we were never told that at school.

I hadn't thought about that time at primary school for a very long time, and I had never really thought country dancing to be a particularly odd thing to have done at school until chatting about it casually with some friends, when I discovered that I was the only person to have done it. I grew up in a fairly affluent area of London, but thinking back about it now, I had never realised how much I took it all for granted - I was given a very traditional and thorough education, at a great school with some superb teachers, and was given, among other things, the rare opportunity to take part in traditional British customs such as country dancing, and although I enjoyed it at the time, I hadn't thought about it since, which makes me feel oh-so-slightly guilty.

It makes me miss the innocent days of my childhood, when we would welcome spring on May Day with dances at the school fĂȘte, around a maypole or otherwise, in our smartest clothes as our parents watched on proudly. As it is, I know very few people (only those with whom I went to school) that took part in this charming old tradition, and that saddens me. I hope that when I have children myself I will remember to construct them a maypole with their own rainbow of ribbons, and teach them the dances I was taught at their age.

I wish I had remembered all of this a week ago, that way I could have constructed my very own maypole and this post would be crammed full of pictures of me no doubt completely tangled up in ribbons, having forgotten all the dances I learned *ahem* 20 years ago.

What did you get up to this May Day?
Did any of you celebrate May Day when you were younger?

4 hellos:

You Are My Fave said...

One day I will force people to do a dance around a May pole. This one is so pretty.

Vixie said...

I haven't done it for some years, but I'm certainly going to try and reinstate it. Perhaps next year!

Julie said...

We never celebrated May Day when I was young, or any other holiday other than the major ones (christmas, halloween, easter, ect..). We've been lucky enough to have been a part of a few May Day celebrations over the past few years with our own children, and would love to construct our own Maypole, thanks for the idea.

Vixie said...

Hi Julie! You're welcome! I'm slightly sad that I didn't think of it earlier, I would have liked to have had a little skip around it yesterday, but I'm tempted to construct one for my birthday... a weird thing to do in November, but I think it'd still be lots of fun!

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