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.
and rural sports were closed by a grand procession in the evening. The duties of her majesty were by no means heavy, as she had only to preside over rural assemblies of young folks at dances and merrymakings, and had the utmost obedience paid to her by all classes of her subjects. If she got married before the next May-day her authority was at an end, but still she held office until that day, when her successor to the throne was chosen. If not married during her reign of twelve months, she was capable of being re-elected; but that seldom happened, as there was always found some candidate put forward by the young men of the district to dispute the •crown the next year.—N. & Q. 3rd S. vol. iv. p. 229.
In Ireland, says Mr. Crofton Croker, May-day is called La na Beal Una, and May-eve neen na Baal Una, that is, the day and eve of Baal's fire, from its having been in ancient times consecrated to the god Beal, or Belus; whence also the month of May is termed in Irish Mi na Beal tine. May­day is the favourite festival of the mummers. They consist of a number, varying according to circumstances, of the girls and young men of the village or neighbourhood, usually se­lected for their good looks, or their proficiency—the females in the dance, the youths in hurling and other athletic exer­cises. They march in procession, two abreast, and in three divisions : the young men in the van and the rear, dressed in white or other gay-coloured jackets or vests, and decorated with ribbons on their hats and sleeves. The young women are dressed also in light-coloured garments, and two of them bear each a holly-bush, on which are hung several new hur­ling balls, the May-day present of the girls to the youths of the village. The bush is decorated with a profusion of long ribbons, or paper cut in imitation, which adds greatly to the gay and joyous, yet strictly rural, appearance of the wThole. The procession is always preceded by music, some­times of the bagpipe, but more commonly of a military fife, with the addition of a drum or tambourine. A clown is of course in attendance: he wears a frightful mask, and bears a long pole, with shreds of cloth nailed to the end of it, like a mop, which ever and anon he dips in a pool of water or puddle, and besprinkles such of the crowd as press upon his companions, much to the delight of the younger spectators,
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