Everyone enjoys a nice big lie in at the start of May each year as we celebrate May Day on the first Monday. But why?
May Day itself – held on May 1 – traditionally sees Morris dancing, children frolicking around a maypole and the crowning of a May Queen.
But what is the history behind May Day and why does it actually exist?
The May bank holiday weekend ‘s beginnings go all the way back to our Anglo-Saxon roots. Here’s what it’s all about.
When is May Day?
May Day falls on May 1 this year.
What is May Day?
May Day has roots in pagan Anglo-Saxon customs and the pagan festival Beltane, which marks the beginning of summer.
Typically, on May Day villages and towns across the UK now mark the beginning of springtime fertility.
This would usually be celebrated with large gatherings of communities, villages holding fetes and other fun activities.
The May Queen is also crowned on May Day, and often sees local schoolgirls compete for the crown in honour of Flora, the Roman goddess.
But where does maypole dancing come into all this?
Maypole dancing is another tradition celebrated on May Day, and is seen as a way of saying farewell to winter.
Even though summer does not begin until June, May Day is a celebration of things coming to life.
May Day also falls on the same day as International Workers’ Day, launched in the late 19th century with protests for an eight hour working day.
When are the bank holidays?
May Day falls on May 1, and is followed by the May Day bank holiday – when many of us get a day off work.
The May Day bank holiday falls on the first Monday in May, and takes place this year on May 7.
However, you may want to reflect on the fact that it was nearly scrapped by the Tories in 2011.
Parliament debated at the time that the bank holiday associated with May Day should be replaced by a United Kingdom Day that would fall in October.
Thankfully, for those looking forward to a day off soon, those plans did not materialise.
May Day was previously abolished by Puritan parliaments but was brought back in 1660 following the restoration of Charles II.
The second bank holiday in May takes place on May 29 this year, and is known as the Spring Bank Holiday.
Why do we have Bank Holidays?
In 1871 the Bank Holidays act was introduced, which ensured four days of the year were seen as public holidays.
Easter Monday, Whit Monday, the first Monday in August and Boxing Day are all Bank Holidays.
In 1890 the May Bank Holiday became associated with International Workers’ Day as the Second International organised a day of protests in support of an eight-hour working day.
May 1 was linked with protests after that, and then became an official holiday in 1978.
What to do on May Day
Modern ways of marking May Day vary dramatically.
In Edinburgh, the Beltane Fire Festival – marking the traditional pagan festival – is held around the May Day bank holiday period.
Organisers boast that "Edinburgh’s populace gets pagan and elemental dancing and dazzling fire displays become the evening’s entertainment for the 12,000 plus people in attendance."
Students at the University of St Andrews have been known to gather at the North Sea on April 30 before storming into the water at sunrise – often naked.
In Oxford, Magdalen College students are also known to leap from Magdalen Bridge into the River Cherwell, which has caused injuries in the past.
One celebration that doesn’t involve jumping into the water is seen in Padstow, Cornwall. Known as the Obby-Oss Day of Festivities, locals dance in the streets alongside accordian players who keep them company providing music.
The festival sees the whole town decorated, and thousands typically attend.
And in Rochester the Sweeps’ festival takes place on May Day. This remembers the traditional holiday for chimney sweeps that used to take place on May 1 – the one day in the year when they could have some fun. This year the festival will be held from April 30 until May 2 and will feature Morris Dancing as well as folk music performances on open air stages.
May Bank holiday opening times
If you’re expecting family over the long leisurely weekend, or know there’s a slight chance you’ll have to pop to your local supermarket to pick up last minute nibbles, nappies, or alcohol, read on for our helpful guide on May bank holiday supermarket opening hours this Monday.
We have also put together this very handy guide for the department stores May bank holiday opening times including House of Fraser , John Lewis and Debenhams .
And, for those of you planning a spot of decorating this weekend, we’ve also covered opening hours for Wickes , Homebase and B&Q in our DIY stores bank holiday shopping guide.
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