References to May Day can be rather confusing. May Day itself is officially 1st May, but the May Day Bank Holiday is widely referred to as ‘May Day’. Always the first Monday in May, it can fall on anything up to six days later; this year it’s 2nd May.
May Day originally had Pagan roots, marking the start of summer when cattle were driven out to summer pastures. Various rituals were performed to protect both the cattle and crops, and to encourage growth.
Although it’s now seen as a non-secular celebration, some of the old customs and traditions have survived. Three of the most popular ones are Morris dancing, maypole dancing and the crowning of a May queen.
Morris dancing is believed to encourage crops to grow and the sun to rise –heralding new life with the advent of spring. Not surprisingly, Morris dancers used to be in great demand by farmers, who wanted them to bring luck to their crops for the coming year.
These days various groups and societies around the county continue the custom, with local sites including Bancroft Gardens in Stratford-upon-Avon and Chesterton Windmill near Leamington Spa. But you’ll have to get up early to see the dancing as the celebrations start at sunrise!
If you’d like to watch some maypole dancing, you’re in luck. Warwick’s Hill Close Gardens is hosting a Springtime/May Day celebration on 30th April, featuring traditional maypole dancing set amongst colourful spring flowers and seasonal displays.
But that’s not the only place worth visiting over the May Bank Holiday weekend in Shakespeare’s England, as there’s plenty more going on.
The ninth Stratford-upon-Avon Literary Festival has a packed programme with 1st May given over entirely to children. One of the highlights of the day is a fun, interactive show with Gruffalo creator Julia Donaldson at Stratford ArtsHouse
If you fancy a flutter why not spend the day at the races? Warwick Racecourse’s Bank Holiday Family Fun Day is sure to be a hit for the whole family, with activities for the little ones and racing for the adults.
And if you prefer four wheels to four legs, you’ll find much to interest you at the Stratford Festival of Motoring, which runs from 1st to 2nd May.