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.                                      257
The young people of both sexes go out early in the morning to gather the flowering thorn and the dew off the grass, which they bring home with music and acclamations; and having dressed a pole on the town-green with garlands, dance around it. A syllabub is also prepared for the May-feast, which is made of warm milk from the cow, sweet cakes, and wine ; and a kind of divination is practised by fishing with a ladle for a wedding-ring which is dropped into it for the purpose of prognosticating who shall be first married.— Hutchinson, Hist, of Northumberland, 1778, vol. ii., Appendix, p. 14.
At Newcastle-upon-Tyne it was formerly usual on May-mornings for the young girls to sing these lines in the streets, at the same time gathering flowers :—
" Rise up, maidens, fie for shame ! For I've been four long miles from hame, I've been gathering my garlands gay, Rise up, fair maids, and take in your May !"—
Brand, Pop. Antiq. 1849, vol. i. p. 219.
The May-day customs observed in this county are in many respects similar to those of other counties, but Nottingham­shire has the honour of being the parent of most of the happy sports which characterise this joyous period of the year, from the fact of most of the May-day games having had their origin in the world-famous Robin Hood, whose existence and renown are so intimately connected with this district. His connection with " Merry Sherwood " and the Sheriff of Not­tingham have been universal themes for centuries; and these and the " Miller of Mansfield " and the " Wise Men of Gotham " have done more towards making this county famous than all the rest of the ballads and popular literature put together. Maypoles and morris-dances were formerly very general, and the characters of Robin Hood, Little John, Friar Tuck, Maid Marian, and the Hobby-horse were well sustained. The maypoles were sometimes very elegantly ornamented, and surmounted by flags and streamers of various colours.
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