British Popular Customs Present And Past - online book

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

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268
MAY DAY.
[May i.
and after the feast is over replaced over the spots they were taken from. This was originally styled Clonau-Beltein, or the split branch of the fir of the rock.—Tour in Scotland, 1790, vol. i. p. 206.
County of Edinburgh.
At Edinburgh about four o'clock in the morning there is an unusual stir; and a hurrying of gay throngs through the King's Park to Arthur's Seat to collect the May-dew. In the course of half an hour the entire hill is a moving mass of all sorts of people. At the summit may be seen a company of bakers and other craftsmen, dressed in kilts, dancing round a maypole. On the more level part is usually an itinerant vendor of whisky, or mountain (not May) dew. These proceedings commence with the daybreak. About six o'clock the appearance of the gentry, toiling up the ascent, becomes the signal for servants to march home ; for they know that they must have the house clean and every­thing in order earlier than usual on May-morning. About eight o'clock the fun is all over; and by nine or ten, were it not for the drunkards who are staggering towards the " gude town," no one would know that anything particular had taken place.—See Every Day Book, vol. ii. p. 609.
Fergusson the Scottish poet thus describes this custom :—
" On May-day in a fairy ring We've seen them, round St. Anthon's spring, Frae grass the caller dew-drops wring,
To wet their ein, And water clear as crystal spring, To synd them clean."
Formerly the magistrates of Canongate, Edinburgh, used to walk in procession to church upon the first Sunday after Beltane, carrying large nosegays. This observance was evidently a modified relic of the ancient festival of the sun; and the original meaning of the custom must have been an expression of gratitude to that luminary, deified under the name of Baal, for the first-fruits of his genial influence.— Household Words, 1859, vol. xix. p. 558.
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