British Popular Customs Present And Past - online book

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

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254                                      may day.                              [may i.
A native of Fotheringbay, Mr. W. C. Peach, relates that ho was formerly accustomed to go into the fields over-night and very early on May-day to gather cowslips, primroses, wood-anemones, blue bells, &c, to make the garlands. The garland, if possible, was hung in the centre of the street on a rope stretched from house to house. Then was made the trial of skill in tossing balls (small white leather ones) through the framework of the garland, to effect which was a triumph. Speaking of the May-bush (a large tree selected for being tall, straight, full of branches, and if possible flowers), Mr. W. C. Peach says," I have been looking out for a pretty bush days before the time, and if hawthorn and in blossom, then it was glorious. I have seen them ten or twelve feet high, and many in circumference, and they required a stalwart arm to carry and put them into a hole in the ground before the front door, where they were wedged on each side so as to appear growing. Flowers were then thrown over the bush and around it, and strewn as well before the door. Pretty little branches of whitethorn, adorned with the best flowers procurable, were occasionally put up, unperceived by others if possible, against the bed-room of the favourite lass, to show the esteem in which she was held, and the girls accord­ingly were early on the alert to witness the respective favours allotted them. Elder, crab-tree, nettles, thistles, sloes, &c, marked the different degrees of respect in which some of them were held." — Glossary of Northamptonshire Words and Phrases, vol. ii. p. 427.
At Nassington they carry garlands about, and beg for money; in the evening they tie them across the street from chimney to chimney, and dance under them. Formerly married women used to amuse themselves by playing under them at the game of Duck-under-the-water.*—Ibid. p. 428.
At Nassington a curious pasture custom also takes place on May-day. There is a large tract of meadow-land lying on the side of the river Nen, which the inhabitants of the
seventeenth century, and an interesting engraving of it may be seen in the ' Emblems of John de Brunnes,' Amst. 1624.—Nares* Glossary (Halliwell and Wright), 1859, vol. i. p. 219.
* See note on page 252.
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