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British Culture – How to Celebrate May Day!

The Long Weekend

This weekend in Britain is a ‘long weekend’ which means that Monday is a bank holiday and most businesses and schools are closed. Every year, the first Monday in May is a bank holiday and it is known as ‘May Day’. (May Day used to be the first of May but in 1978 it was moved to the first Monday of the month to make it easier for people to celebrate.)

Maypole dancing on May Day

May Day signifies the start of the summer season (even though the summer officially starts in June). It is the time of year when the weather starts to get warmer (thankfully we can already see this in London!) and flowers and trees start to blossom.

There are many traditions and celebrations which take place on May Day. The most well-known tradition is maypole dancing. Children dance around a tall pole holding long multi-coloured ribbons which are attached to the top of the pole. The main purpose of the dance is to create a nice pattern on the pole with the ribbons.

Another tradition associated with the beginning of May is Morris dancing. Men dress in white costumes with bells attached and dance to traditional music while carrying scarves and long sticks. Other customs include decorating houses with flowers and leaves, making floral crowns and crowning a ‘May Queen’.

The History of May Day

In countries around the world, the first of May is celebrated as a day for workers. However, people in the UK have been celebrating a much older holiday for thousands of years. May Day.
There is a pagan (non-Christian, non-Muslim) holiday called Beltane, which was celebrated by the ancient Celts (Irish and Scottish) on the 1st of May, exactly 6 months from the 1st of November which is very special for pagan people also.

The ancient Romans used to celebrate the arrival of spring by dancing and offering flowers to the goddess Flora. In the Middle Ages, people in England used to tell stories about Robin Hood and people sang songs and performed plays to celebrate the coming of spring. In the 17th century, May Day celebrations were banned by the Church because the origins of the festival were non-Christian, but the festival survived.

The tradition of dancing around a Maypole is about 400 years old and involves children holding lengths of ribbon attached to the pole and dancing around it, making patterns on the pole. These days, this dance is practised in smaller villages. A “May Queen” is crowned every year, and she must ride or walk at the front of the May Day parade. Another traditional English dance performed on May Day is the “Morris dance”, which is an English folk dance performed with music. It involves rhythmic stepping, handkerchief-waving or stick shaking and the performers usually wear pads with bells on their legs.

In 1978 the Labour Party, which was in power at the time, made May Day a bank holiday and today May Day and Labour Day (to celebrate and fight for workers’ rights) are celebrated side by side.

Where to celebrate May Day

Canalway CavalcadeThere are many celebrations that take place at the beginning of May where you can watch these traditions in action. From Saturday 4th May until Monday 6th May, you can visit Little Venice to see the Canalway Cavalcade. You will see a colourful gathering of canal boats and enjoy activities such as Morris dancing and drinking real English ale. Sunday evening is the best time to go as there is a procession of illuminated boats, as well as live music, boat trips, stalls and refreshments all weekend! Click here for more information.

If you would like to see maypole dancing, you can visit the May Fayre and Puppet Festival in Covent Garden on Sunday 12th May. Many puppeteers from all around the country come together to perform throughout this very entertaining day. The day begins with a procession around Covent Garden at 11am, followed by a special church service. From 12.30pm to 5.30pm, you can see special puppet shows, puppet workshops, stalls, music, maypole dancing and clowns! For more information about this fun festival, click here.                                                                                        

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Have fun with English


Can you match the words on the left with their opposite meaning on the right? (Beware, they are quite difficult!) This is an excellent way to improve your English vocabulary. If you don’t know the meaning of a word, ask your English teacher or look it up in a dictionary.

transparent poverty
wealth cowardly
rural tasty
bland deep
ancient opaque
shallow mean
brave modern
generous urban

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St George’s Day wordsearch

St George's Day wordsearch

Have a good week everyone and enjoy the long weekend!!

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