British Popular Customs Present And Past - online book

A calendar of the traditional customs, practices & rituals of the British Isles.

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234                                      may day.                              [May L
In a MS. in the Br1sth Museum entitled Status Scholce Etonensis, a.d. 1560, it is stated that on the day of St. Philip and St. James, if it be fair weather, and the master grants leave, those boys who choose it may rise at four o'clock, to gather May-branches, if they can do it without wetting their feet; and that on that day they adorn the windows of the bed-chambers with green leaves, and the houses are per­fumed with fragrant herbs.
Some derive May from Maia, the mother of Mercury, to whom they offered sacrifices on the first day of it; and this seems to explain the custom which prevails on this day at Cambridge of children having a figure dressed in a grotesque manner, called a May-lady, before which they set a table having on it wine, &c. They also beg money of passengers, which is considered as an offering to the Maulkin; for their plea to obtain it is " Pray remember the poor May-lady." Perhaps the garlands, for which they also beg, originally adorned the head of the goddess. The bush of hawthorn, or, as it is called, May, placed at the doors on this day, may point out the firstfruits of the spring, as this is one of the earliest trees which blossoms.—Audley, Companion to the Almanack, 1816 p. 71.
In this county the young men formerly celebrated May­day by placing large bidden boughs over the doors of the t houses where the young women resided to whom they paid their addresses; and an alder bough was often placed over the door of a scold,—Lysons' Magna Britannia, 1810, vol. ii. pt. ii. p. 462.
Maypoles are also erected, and danced round in some villages with as much avidity as ever.—Jour, of Arch. Assoc, 1850, vol. v. p. 254. Washington Irving in his Sketch Book says, I shall never forget the delight I felt on first seeing a Maypole. It was on the banks of the Dee, close by the
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