British Popular Customs Present And Past - online book

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

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may i.]                             may day.                                      251
On the morning of May-day the girls from the neigh­bouring villages of Kingsthorpe, &c., bring into Northampton their garlands, which they exhibit from house to house (to show, as the inhabitants say, what flowers are in season), and usually receive a trifle from each house.
The skeleton of the garland is formed of two hoops of osier or hazel crossing each other at right angles, affixed to a staff about five feet long, by which it is carried ; the hoops are twined with flowers and ribbons so that no part of them is visible. In the centre is placed one, two, or three dolls, according to the size of the garland and the means of the youthful exhibitors. Great emulation is excited amongst them, and they vie with each other in collecting the choicest flowers, and adorning the dolls in the gayest attire ; ribbon streamers of the varied colours of the rainbow, the lacemakers adding their spangled bobbins, decorate the whole. The garlands are carried from house to house concealed from view by a large pocket-handkerchief, and in some villages it is customary to inquire if the inmates would like to see the Queen of the May.
Wherever the young people receive a satisfactory contri­bution they chant their simple ditties, which conclude with wishing the inhabitants of the house " a joyful May," or " a merry month of May." The verses sung by the Dallington children are entirely different from those of any other village, and are here subjoined :—
" The flowers are blooming everywhere, O'er every hill and dale; And oh ! how beautiful they are, How sweetly do they smell!
Go forth, my child, and laugh and play,
And let your cheerful voice, With birds, and brooks, and merry May,
Cry out, Kejoice ! rejoice! "
When the Mayers have collected all the money they can obtain, they return to their homes, and regale themselves, concluding the day with a merry dance round the garland*—
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