Monday, January 31, 2011

Maypole dance

In England there was, for many years, one very curious feature in May Day celebrations, which would have made many American boys and girls—yes and grown-ups, too—stare with surprise. This was the procession of the chimney-sweeps. It used to be the custom in London to make little boys climb up chimneys and sweep down the soot. Now they no longer employ such chimney-sweeps; but in the old days it was their custom, every May Day, to have a great procession of the sweeps in London. On some occasions kind-hearted people helped to make the day a glad one for the little folks of the chimneys by asking them all to a good dinner of roast beef and plum pudding.

Another of the sights in London, on May Day, was the line of stage coaches, which were used before railways were made, all gaily decorated, with the horses smartly groomed, and the harness brightly polished, and the drivers and guards or conductors in their new clothes. The milkmaids, too, used to bedeck themselves with flowers and go from house to house dancing and singing.

As with all celebrations in olden times, some strange ideas were held by the country folk in connection with May Day. One of them was that if you wet your face with dew, on May Day morning, your complexion would be greatly improved. So on the first of May you might have seen hundreds of girls and women out in the fields while the dew was yet on the ground, seeking to make themselves more attractive by this means.

Maypole danceTitle: The book of holidays. Author: Joseph Walker McSpadden. Publisher: Thomas Y. Crowell company, 1917. Original from: the New York Public Library. Digitized: Jan 7, 2009. Length: 309 pages
Subjects: Holidays Social Science / Holidays (non-religious)

This image (or other media file) is in the public domain because its copyright has expired. This applies to the United States, where Works published prior to 1978 were copyright protected for a maximum of 75 years. See Circular 1 "COPYRIGHT BASICS" PDF. Works published before 1923, in this case 1917, are now in the public domain.

But the great event of the English day was dancing around the maypole. This pole was not one of the small size used in our May Day celebrations, but a big tree. In some cases it took forty yoke of oxen to haul it from the woods, whence it was brought all decorated with flowers and streamers. This tall tree was set firmly in the ground (for it often remained in its position for a year) and round about it little booths and arbors were often built. When the decoration of it was properly finished, the people used to spend the rest of the day in dancing around it.

Washington Irving, the author who wrote "Rip Van Winkle," was so delighted when he saw a maypole on the banks of the Dee, near Chester in England, that he wrote: "I shall never forget the delight I felt on first seeing a maypole. My fancy adorned it with wreaths of flowers and people*} the green bank with all the dancing and revelry of May Day. The mere sight of this maypole gave a glow to my feelings and spread a charm over the country for the rest of the day."

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