British Popular Customs Present And Past - online book

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

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266                                      may day.                              [May i.
among the farmers for good conduct, they go from house to house throughout their parish, begging the loan of watches, silver spoons, and other utensils of this metal, and those who are satisfied with the parties, and have a regard for the celebration of this ancient day, comply with their solicitation. When May-day morn arrives the group of dancers assemble at the village tavern. From thence (when permission can be obtained from the clergyman of the parish) the procession sets forth, accompanied by the ringing of bells. tThe arrangement and march are settled by the Cadi, who is always the most active person in the company, and is, by virtue of his office, the chief marshal, orator, buffoon, and money-collector. He is always arrayed in comic attire, generally in a partial dress of both sexes, a coat and waistcoat being used for the upper part of the body, and for the lower petticoats somewhat resembling Moll Flagon, in the "Lord of the Manor." His countenance is also distinguished by a hideous mask, or is blackened entirely over, and then the lips, cheeks, and orbits of the eyes are sometimes painted red. The number of the rest of the party, including the garland-bearer, is generally thirteen, and with the exception of the varied taste in the decoration of their shirts with ribbons, their costume is similar. It consists of clothing entirely new, made of a light texture for dancing. White decorated shirts, are worn over the rest of their clothing; the remainder of the dress is black velveteen breeches, with knee-ties depending halfway down to the ancles, in contrast with yarn hose of a light grey. The ornaments of the hats are large rosettes of varied colours, with streamers depending from them; wreaths of ribbon encircle the crown, and each of the dancers carries in his right hand a white pocket-handkerchief. The garland con­sists of a long staff or pole, to which is affixed a triangular or square frame, covered with strong white linen, on which the silver ornaments are fixed, and displayed with great taste. Silver spoons, &c, are placed in the shape of stars, squares, and circles. Between these are rows of watches, and at the top of the frame, opposite to the pole in its centre, the whole collection is crowned with the largest and most costly of the ornaments, generally a large silver
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