May Day

May PoleThe first of May is a day of celebration and a public holiday in many countries.  May Day in Britain includes dancing around the Maypole and the crowing of a May Queen.  Trees play an important role in these traditions as they have long been symbols of vitality and fertility, and often connected with special or magical powers.

Every English village would have had a Maypole by the Middle Ages.  The cutting of the Maypole in the woods and its arrival in the village or town would have been a great occasion, accompanied by music and dance.  The Maypoles were of all sizes dependent on availability and the enthusiasm of the merrymakers, with one village vying with another for who could produce the tallest Maypole.

For the old custom of ‘going-a-Maying’, branches from the hawthorn Crataegus monogyna would be cut to decorate doorways where its magical properties were believed to ward off evil spirits, which would become even more powerful when woven.  Hawthorn is sometimes called The Queen of May.

In North America a sub-species of bird cherry (Prunus padus) is sometimes sold as an ornamental called the May Day Tree (Prunus padus commutata).  It usually flowers after leaf burst in May when its white flowers are very attractive to bees and butterflies.

Gabriel Hemery

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