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Once, life was simple: On first of May, school children would perform complicated dances around the village maypole, in the lovely Spring sunshine we so often had. Then the BBC evening news, from our single, trusted state broadcaster, would carry reports of the tanks and missile-launchers rumbling through Moscow's Red Square. There might also have been May Day riots in strange foreign places such as Paris. The lucky few would see blurry black and white images on their tiny TVs. Other people might see black and white photos next day in their newspapers.
1st May has long had a dual identity:
One year in southern Greece, my train from the Peloponnese was packed with families who'd spent May Day in the countryside, having barbecues and making garlands of wild flowers; meanwhile students and others were rioting in Athens.
During their occupation of Britain, the Romans are said to have brought their week long festival of Floralia, honouring Flora, goddess of youth, spring, and flowers. This merged with the old Celtic pagan festival of Beltane, to focus on nature and fertility. People would gather to dance around maypoles, sing songs, and feast on seasonal foods. In some areas, there would also be competitions such as Morris Dancing and maypole climbing.
English Morris Dancing dwindled during and after the Industrial Revolution. It was revived largely in the late 19th century, by collectors of folk customs, dance and music, such as Cecil Sharp.
"International Workers' Day" is newer: Possibly triggered as a response to Chicago's violent "Haymarket Affair" on 4th May 1886. Subsequently in 1889, the Second International in Paris, an international federation of socialists and trade unions in Europe, voted to organize a day of demonstrations on May Day 1890. Such annual demonstrations have continued.
1st May is marked by many socialist and communist groups. In 1978, the UK Labour government brought in the "Early May Bank Holiday," defined as "the first Monday in May." Conversely in 1894, the USA Federal authorities decreed that 1st September (instead of May) would become the annual USA "Labor Day" holiday. So far, several attempts to move the UK Bank Holiday from May to the Autumn, have failed. So the UK now has several Spring Bank Holidays clustered closely together, and large gaps at other times of the year.
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This webpage was created for the Hemyock Castle open day on May Day 2023.
Image Credit: Green Man Carving image was created using Bing-AI / DALL-E2. The Protest image was adapted from screen prints by Atelier Populaire, École des Beaux Arts, Paris; created from personal photographs of those images stencilled on walls.
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Hemyock Castle, Hemyock, CULLOMPTON, Devon, EX15 3RJ, UK.
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